Aiming to portray the frenetic pace of urban Paris, to modern eyes the Renoir's scene looks serene, relaxed and orderly.
Orderly is perhaps the only opinion that contemporary and modern audiences might have in common when viewing Renoir's 1872 canvas Le Pont Neuf Paris, as the grand boulevards most closely associated with Paris had only recently been cleaved in the medieval centre by the controversial urban planner Baron Von Haussmann. Tired of the crumbling buildings and the winding alleys that were tricky to attack whenever a barricade spring up, Emperor Napoleon III modernized the cluster of streets into the orderly and epic tree-lined roads we know today.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, one of the founders and masters of the Impressionist style, is often more closely associated with landscapes and figurative scenes. However, in the heady days following the Paris Commune, a failed revolution in 1871, Renoir was keen to paint Impressionist reproductions of the changing face of the city that had been his home for much of his life. Many to this day forget, however, that the sweeping vistas called for an immediate depopulation of the medieval quarters, causing Renoir's own family to be evicted twice to make way for new boulevards.
The reproduction of city life in Le Pont Neuf Paris is witness to a well-behaved, tamed, yet still intrinsically local place. Figures move rapidly, captured by the swift and innovative brushstrokes, and the ancient stone is bathed in light, almost causing the viewer to squint along with the strolling locals. If you look very closely, among the throng on the Pont Neuf bridge, it is possible to make out a figure in a straw boater hat and cane appearing twice. The figure is Renoir's brother Edmond who, sent by the artist to attempt to slow down the pace of the pedestrians with idle chatter, is depicted at one with the scene – intervening in the depiction and in turn being depicted.
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