A Road in Louveciennes painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir around 1870 prefigures the experiential natural movement of Vincent Van Gogh and shows an intimate understanding of the then emerging techniques of Claude Monet. This remarkable painting, captured en plein air – or outdoors – bears little to no signs of underdrawing, signaling that the picture was produced directly with paint.
The subject matter, the village of Louveciennes, situated to the west of Paris, was the summer home of Renoir's parents. The little village became a hotbed of Impressionist work, being frequented by late XIX century artists hoping to refine their style. Over 120 painting exist depicting the scene, captured by such Impressionist figures as Alfred Sisley and Monet. Renoir's friend and fellow Impressionist Camille Pissarro lived and worked in the village around the same time and painted a view of the same road in 1872. In the painting entitled Road in Louveciennes, Pissarro achieves a gentle atmosphere, the backs of the village houses capturing the yellow light of the golden hour before sunset.
Reminiscent of the urgency of one of Van Gogh's late Arles landscapes, A Road in Louveciennes is a paradoxically serene scene for which the dating is important. Whereas historians agree this reproduction of a village scene was painted sometime around 1870 the precise time of execution could add a more haunting dimension to the artwork. On September 19th, 1870 began the Siege of Paris by the invading Prussian armies. The arrogance of Napoleon III had inadvertently caused the Franco-Prussian war and only three months into the battle the troops of Wilhelm I were at the gates of Paris. The city was surrounded, and for four long months, the citizens endured terror-bombing, starvation, and encirclement.
If painted during the siege A Road in Louveciennes is more than a reproduction of village life, but a funeral and the ominous scene in which the shadows loom large and the sound of the Prussian shells cannot be far off. Renoir was able to beautifully portray the effects of the sunlight on this earthy pathway. The vegetation and dark trees on the left side of the canvas cast an interesting shadow on the road, where the well-dressed family takes a stroll. The bushes and trees on the right of the painting are bathed in golden sunlight, and the sky is bright and clear.
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