View of the Roofs of Paris

View of the Roofs of Paris

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Painting Date
1st of July 1886
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In June of 1886, when the brothers moved to an apartment in the Rue Lepic on the Butte Montmartre, Vincent began drawing and painting the view from their window.  He has probably left the Cormon atelier after painting human figures based on clay models for several months and studying with some of Paris’ best young future artists and leaders of post impressionism.  Vincent will paint flowers and nearby landscapes in the coming months but is captivated by the view from his window in June and July of 1886, about four months from when he arrived at the louvre and sent a note to Theo he had arrived.  They have just moved to the new apartment/studio on Rue Lepic when he paints this work based upon sketches he has worked of sections of the painting.  He also will later set up his easel on a bluff above the apartment in the coming month and paint a similar but more easterly view of Paris from Montmartre.

‘The remarkable thing, about our dwelling is the superb view over the city, with the hills of Meudon, Saint-Cloud and the rest on the horizon, and over it an expanse of sky nearly as great as when one stands on the top of a dune’, Theo wrote to a Dutch friend shortly after the move.

This painting, which is the largest of the 1886 series, is a panoramic compendium of individual subjects which Van
Gogh had recorded in drawings and sketches. The drawings were done in coloured chalk, a technique which he had learned in Antwerp. The painting looks out over Paris towards the south-east. In the centre, risïng over the sea of grey roofs, is the dome of the Panthéon. On the left is the cathedral of Notre-Dame, with the high roof of the church of Saint Eustache just in front of it. On the right are the roofs of the corner pavilions of the Louvre, those on the Tuileries side being the most prominent. This particular view was extolled in the 1887 Baedeker guide to the city. This guide, which stated that there was ‘une très belle vue de Paris’ to be seen from the hill, and especially from the new Street in front of the Sacré-Coeur, which was still unfinished at the time.

Van Gogh divided his cityscape into four planes. The foreground has warm colors and the strongest contrasts of
light and shade, and is demarcated by the green trees. Beyond them the rooftops recede in cooler tones towards the

The third visual recession is provided by the dark silhouettes of Notre-Dame, the Panthéon, and the narrow strip between them. Finally, the countryside beyond is indicated sketchily, with a horizon which is sometimes sharp, sometimes vague. Van Gogh achieved the same sort of spatial effect in the sky, where the bands of pink grey, blue and white intermingle, creating a lively, fluid effect. It can be deduced from the colours and the light effects that the painting was made in the afternoon and evening.
The colour, tonality and brushwork are related to Van Gogh’s preceding period, while the subject itself belongs to the same category as the drawings and paintings which he made from his studio window in Schenkweg in The Hague, and the view from his window in Antwerp. While he was living in The Hague the Mesdag Panorama was being constructed – a project which interested him greatly. He also painted some panoramic landscapes in Arles, and associated them with the work of 17th-century Dutch masters. This urban panorama has more in common with the 18th-century vedute tradition and with 19th-century panoramic paintings and photographs.



Painting, Oil on Canvas – 54 x 72.5 cm
Paris: Summer – late, 1886
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 261, JH: 1101

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