A collaboration of the husband and wife artists, Stéphanie and Antoine Hénault, this ambitious view of the Quai Conti, the Ile de la Cité and the Right Bank of Paris, was painted from the vantage point of the couple’s atelier at 17, Quai Conti, on the left bank of the Seine.
This panorama is an important document of the way this section of Paris looked between 1846 and 1850, just before its modification under the Second Empire, led by Baron Haussmann and his team of architects. Indeed, shortly after the completion of this work the Quai Conti was widened and raised, and the construction of a series of locks in the Seine after 1850 made the river deeper and more easily navigable to large ships, making the water activities depicted here no longer possible.
In the left foreground of the composition is the impressive Institut de France, founded in 1635 by Cardinal de Richelieu, under whose arcade Parisians would stroll and examine the artwork on offer. (It was, in fact, under these arcades that the Realist painter François Bonvin had his artistic début.) From the Institut, the Pont des Arts extends across the river to the Louvre, in the first arrondissement, here depicted before the Neo-Baroque wings, which were added by Visconti and Hector Lefuel. Further along the right bank are the façades of the buildings in front of the church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois. These buildings were consequently torn down by Haussmann to make way for the colossal department store, La Samaritaine, which opened in 1869. From the left bank, the Pont Neuf, with workmen’s huts constructed by Soufflot, crosses over to the ancient Ile de La Cité, where the gothic roof of the Hôtel de Harlay is still visible today. In the center of the composition, in the bed of the Seine, are the Baths of Henry IV, which had, at the time this painting was made, just been inaugurated and were being touted for their combination of charm and modernity as demonstrated in the private cabins, kiosks, cafés, diving board and large swimming pool. In front of the Baths of Henry IV is the ritual bathing of the horses, and further along the Seine are boat races.
Antoine Hénault was born in Lyon and studied with Révoil and Thierriat at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts before entering the Ingres studio in 1833. From 1842, Hénault exhibited regularly at the Salon, and in 1844, according to a Salon livret of that year, the artist married Miss Stéphanie Séron, who had herself worked in Ingres studio.
Stéphanie and Antoine Hénault lived and worked together in 17 Quai Conti from 1844 – 1846. (See figure 1: In this contemporary view of the Quai Conti no. 17 is the tallest of the three townhouses visible in the gap of trees between the Hôtel de la Monnaie and the Institut.) The address seems to have been quite popular amongst artists: it was thought that before the Hénault worked there, no.17 was the atelier of painter Jean-Baptiste Régnault.)
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