The present work, an important and hitherto unrecorded example of Pissarro's Rouen series paintings, was painted on the second of his two visits to the city in 1896. Following a three month stay at the beginning of the year, during which time he concentrated his attention on the city's bridges, Pissarro had returned to Rouen - a city he once described as being 'as beautiful as Venice' - in September for a further two months work. This time he stayed at the Hôtel de l'Angleterre on the Cours Boïeldieu, painting views of the quayside from his bedroom window. 'I wanted to paint the animation of that beehive: Rouen and its quays,' wrote Pissarro to his son Lucien in 1896.
Pissarro rested several canvases against the walls of his hotel room, keeping as many as ten pictures in progress, turning his attention to a work only when the weather seemed appropriate to the painting's particular atmosphere - a practice to be repeated by Monet in his room at the Savoy in London overlooking the Thames a few years later. Writing to his son Lucien in September 1896, Pissarro commmented: 'Rouen is admirable; here at the hotel, from my window at the second mezzanine floor, I see the boats glide by with their plumes of black, yellow, white, pink smoke. I see the ships loaded with planks of wood being moored, being unloaded and going off' (quoted in exh. cat. The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro's Series Paintings, London, 1992, p. 6).
Of the fifteen or so works dating from Pissarro's autumn visit to Rouen, the present work relates most closely to four other pictures (P&V. 959, 960, 967 & 969) each of which shows the quayside occupying the lower third of the canvas, with a view across the Seine and the Canteleu hills in the background. Pissarro found such satisfaction in the motif of Rouen that he returned to the city again in 1898, continuing his exploration of the teeming docks (Fig. 1).