Boulevard de Clichy

Boulevard de Clichy

"The main one’s just like Place Clichy, with all its bustle, it’s really alive..."
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This canvas of the famous Paris boulevard on the southern edge of Montmartre, created in late winter of 1887, was a view Vincent knew well. Rue Lepic, the street on which he lived with his brother Theo, began just off the right edge of the canvas and several of their favorite cafes and lounges were on the street he depicts in this oil on canvas painting.

Ferdinand Cormon’s atelier, where Vincent took painting lessons during his first few months in Paris and met Lautrec, John Russell, Bernard and Anquetin, was located at number 104.  The Neo-Impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac lived a little further down the boulevard as did one of Vincent and Theo’s favorite caricaturist/artists, Honore’ Daumier a few decades before.  Vincent’s paramour for a few months of winter and spring in 1887 (Agostina Segatori) runs the Cafe Du Tambourin on the Boulevard de Clichy and the famous Moulin Rouge is on the street as well.

The Street View image toggled with the Paintings button shows how little Baron Hausman’s grand redesign of Paris has changed since Vincent’s days.  Also included as a Related Image is a drawing of the same scene Vincent completed as a study prior to creating the canvas.  By using Compare, a couple walking in the lower right hand corner of the drawing is revealed to have been omitted from the canvas, perhaps because it drew attention away from main subject – the retreating avenue and the familiar buildings that lined the boulevard.

This subject of Paris streets with Parisians walking along them was commonly depicted by the impressionists before them and the post-impressionists followed suit when choosing where to set their own easels. Vincent portrays the people, buildings and light reflections with smaller and less distinctive brushstrokes of unmixed color. He applies his paint very thinly and presents a light and matted composition, enhanced by bright and contrasting colors.

Vincent associates the street with the young avant-garde artists with whom he shares absinthe and conversation nightly about pointillism and symbolism and the path forward beyond the great impressionists.  His color palette is opening, growing and lightening as his days and nights in Paris go by.  He and his fellow young artists of the petit boulevard are synthesizing and stretching their ideas as each tries to be the next Monet in terms of artistic popularity and demand.  A year after this canvas is completed, Vincent will find himself in Arles, having desperately needed to get away from the city of light and Montmartre’s bohemian lifestyle draining his strength and health.

 

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“Did you notice Dessins Raffaëlli — La rue, published recently by Le Figaro? The main one’s just like place Clichy, with all its bustle, it’s really alive. Figaro must also have published an issue with drawings by Caran d’Ache.”

To Theo. Arles, Thursday, 21 June 1888

 

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Evert van Utiel:

The vantage point is the same in both drawing and painting. Van Gogh took up a position on the Place Blanche, and it is as if he has gathered us as spectators by his side. The Street on the left, with the balconied building on the corner, must be the Rue Bruxelles. The drawing presents a slightly wider view than the painting, which was later cut down a little on each side.  The women filling the lower right hand corner recall figures by Degas.  They are fused int o a single form which merges with the background at the bottom where the colors have been left vague.  These hunched figures, which are such an important compositional element, have been omitted from the graphic painting.

The drawing is divided into large, distinct areas, with the illuminated row of houses across the boulevard as the most striking element.  The unity of th whole is strengthened by the lavish use of blue, with the chalk being used to bring out the structure of the paper, which plays its own part in the composition.  It appears to be a cold, wintry day.

The painting is more muted in tone. The space is more cramped, the linear perspective less emphatic and the bare trees merge with the background and no longer define the axis of the boulevard.  The painting was executed with a colorful, dabbing brush. The light-coloured primer is present throughout and gives the scene an almost springlike air, which isprobably why the painting is generally dated slightly later than the drawing. The technique is reminiscent of a watercolor. City views done in watercolour had long been a popular genre and in the Petit Palais in Paris there is a fine view of the Boulevard Saint-Germain painted in 1882 by Henri Harpignies, an older contemporary whom Vincent greatly admired.

When vincent had been commissioned to make series of drawings of The Hague he began collecting popular prints as reference material, including some in which the emphasis was on street life rather than the architecture.  In this painting, however, and in Harpignies’s watercolour, we are shown a street and nothing more – no drama, no anecdote, and no literary allusions.
Vincent used the same technique in two other works which he painted from his window in the Rue Lepic (cat. 1.151 and F 341 a), and in a ‘point de vue’ on Montmartre, which is dated to the early spring of 1887 (cat. 1.141). The technique has little in common with Seurat’s vibrant Pointillism, but is Van Gogh’s own variant of Impressionism, possibly influenced by the work of the young Paul Signac, whom he knew in Paris and who later became one of Seurat’s
followers.

The Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh

 

 

 

 

 

Painting, Oil on Canvas
Paris, France: February – March, 1887
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 292, JH: 1219

Where Vincent Was:
Paris

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