Winter landscapes have a long and storied tradition in the history of Western art. As Charlie Moffett wrote on the occasion of the landmark exhibition Impressionist in Winter: Effets de Neige
, “The history of snowscapes in European paintings reaches back as far as the Limbourg Brothers’ Les Trés riches heures du duc de Berry
of about 1415” (Impressionists in Winter Effets de Neige
(exhibition catalogue), The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. 13; see fig. 1). The snowscapes conceived by Monet, Sisley and Pissarro and other Impressionists are among the greatest masterpieces of this genre. In true Impressionist fashion, each artist was drawn to the challenges of capturing the subtleties of winter light, crispy air and reflective qualities of the snow-covered landscape.
While Monet braved icy winds in the early 1860s to capture the wintry atmosphere at Honfleur and the Seine Valley, Pissarro’s foray into winter scenes began later in the decade when he moved from Pontoise to a home called Maison Retrou in Louveciennes. By early December 1869, as temperatures dipped below freezing, Monet arrived for an extended visit in the town, settling into the countryside with his own family. Monet sought comfort and strength in the company of a like-minded artist after his two submissions to the 1869 Salon were rejected. His financial woes at this time also motivated him to visit the Pissarros, with whom he hoped to share resources during his stay. Shortly after Monet's arrival in Louveciennes, a heavy snow fall blanketed Paris and its western suburbs. Pissarro and Monet ventured into the bitter cold with their easels to capture the transformed landscape on the road outside Maison Retrou. It was here that the pair, working side-by-side en plein air
, immortalized on canvas the idyllic atmosphere of the quiet snow-covered town. Pissarro’s Route de Versailles, Louveciennes, Winter Sun and Snow,
one of his earliest winter canvas,
was painted around this time, likely in the company of Monet (see fig. 2).
Pissarro’s interest in winter landscapes lasted throughout his career and extended well past his escape to the countryside in Eragny and Louveciennes. He frequently captured snowscapes wherever he traveled, depicting scenes of Pontoise, Osny, Paris and Montfoucault. As Moffett wrote, “Despite the wide variety of content and composition, these winterscapes have in common Pissarro’s enduring love of nature, his great fascination with light and shadow, and his interest in humanity…” (ibid.
, p. 39). When he eventually returned to Paris after life in the rural tranquility of Eragny, the artist moved into an apartment at the Grand Hôtel de Russie on the Boulevard Montmartre. From this vantage point, Pissarro painted a series of views of the bustling street beneath him, at varying times of day and during different seasons. In Boulevard Montmartre, matin d'hiver
, Pissarro depicts the frenzy of pedestrians and carriages going about their business on a winter's morning, the bare branches of the trees along the Haussmannian thoroughfare a sign of the season (see fig. 3). Toward the end of his life, Pissarro completed Le Louvre sous la neige,
a work that captures the drama of a snowstorm blanketing the landmarks along the Seine, such as the Pont-des-Arts and the Louvre (see fig. 4).
The energetic brushwork and strong contrast between pigments evident in the present work evoke the proto-Pointilist style Pissarro developed in the 1880s, when this work was completed (ibid., p. 162). As Moffett writes, “these new works were produced in a studio with much less influence from nature. As a result, his commitment to painting effets de neige was temporarily suspended for several years while he allied himself with the Neo-Impressionists” (ibid., p. 51). However, Pissarro’s four-year foray into Neo-Impressionism techniques was short-lived. He eventually returned to painting the snaking riverbanks and provincial subjects for which he is so well-known.