10 Facts about The Boulevard Montmartre at Night by Camille Pissarro
I’m a huge fan of Impressionism, and it’s one of the reasons why I love living in Paris. Between the Musée d’Orsay, the l’Orangerie, and several other museums, there are so many opportunities to admire paintings from this famous art movement in the city. In addition to Claude Monet (the Impressionist master, if we’re being honest), I have a few other favorites. One of them is a man named Camille Pissarro!
There’s nothing like admiring a beautiful painting of Paris that makes you wish that you were there. If you have no immediate plans to visit right now, here are 10 interesting facts about The Boulevard Montmartre at Night by Camille Pissarro to tide you over until your next trip to the City of Lights.
1. Camille Pissarro was an Impressionist painter
As mentioned, Camille Pissarro was an Impressionist painter. He was born in 1830 on the island of Saint Thomas (now a part of the US Virgin Islands, but at the time was called the Danish West Indies).
When Pissarro was 25 years old he moved to Paris where he would settle there and work as an artist. He studied under the very earliest Impressionist painters, Gustave Courbet, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. He also went to school alongside Monet and Paul Cézanne. Pissarro was the oldest of the group, and the other painters tended to look up to him.
Pissarro is the only Impressionist painter to have had his work featured in all 8 Paris Impressionist exhibits from 1874-1886.
2. The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is just one painting in a series
Now that you know a bit more about the artist himself, let’s move on to The Boulevard Montmartre at Night painting. Pissarro painted the scene that is depicted several times in order to create a series. The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is actually just 1 of 14!
It depicts, you guessed it, the Boulevard Montmartre in Paris. Although in earlier years Pissarro enjoyed painting outside (more on that later), all of the Boulevard Montmartre paintings were done from inside a hotel on 1 rue Drouot. Pissarro stayed in the hotel for 8 weeks in 1897. I think we can all agree that 14 paintings in just 8 weeks is really impressive!
3. The Boulevard Montmartre series was likely inspired by Monet
Although in many ways, Claude Monet looked up to Pissarro, the artist was most likely inspired by his former classmate when he came up with the Boulevard Montmartre series.
By the time Pissarro moved into the hotel on rue Drouot in 1897, Monet had already released two series of the same nature: the Rouen Cathedral Paintings (1892-4) and the Gare Saint-Lazare Paintings (1876-8). One of the key concepts of Impressionism is the ability to capture the way light can change the entire dynamic of any scene. Both Pissarro and Monet chose to paint the same scenes over and over again in order to demonstrate this idea.
4. While The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is world-famous, Pissarro was actually better known for his landscapes
Pissarro, like the other Impressionists, is better known for his landscapes than his city scenes. In fact, his Boulevard Montmartre series is one of the very few times that Pissarro painted a city at all!
Some landscapes of note are The Hay Cart, 1879, and Orchard in Bloom, 1872, which you can see above.
5. Pissarro helped to create the practice of “Plein-air painting”
Alongside Monet and another Impressionist named Alfred Sisley, Pissarro made up a trio of artists who were devoted to a painting technique called Plein-air painting. The idea behind this method is to get out of an art studio into the great outdoors and to paint from there. Those of you who have visited Monet’s home in Giverny, France will recognize the technique as Monet was known for going out into his extensive garden in order to work from there.
6. But, in later years he was forced to paint indoors
Sadly, in his old age, Pissarro developed several problems in his eyes. He could no longer go outside to paint which is why he decided to move into the Parisian hotel in order to paint the city scene depicted in the Boulevard Montmartre series. Although it must have been difficult for the artist, his talent continues to shine through even though he was forced to remain indoors to work on his craft.
7. The Boulevard Montmartre at Night depicts the new Paris of the late 19th century
In the late 19th century, Paris underwent a major makeover thanks to Napoleon III and the Paris city planner Baron Haussmann. If you’ve ever heard of Parisian architecture referred to as “Haussmannian,” that is where the term comes from!
The crowded and dirty medieval streets were torn down to make way for wide boulevards and uniformly designed buildings. Some Parisians liked it, others were pushed out of their homes and therefore resented it. In any case, Paris looks the way that it does today because of changes made in the late 1800s, and Pissarro captured those changes with his paintbrush!
8. There is a special nod to the Moulin Rouge in The Boulevard Montmartre at Night
If you look carefully, you’ll notice a line of carriages waiting for their owners on the left side of the painting. The famous cabaret, the Moulin Rouge is located just around the corner ad the carriages were waiting for a show to let out! It’s a small nod to Parisian nightlife and if you’re familiar with the city can help you situate where the Boulevard Montmartre is!
9. The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is the only nocturnal painting in the series
In all of the other 14 paintings, The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is the only painting that takes place at night. It is considered to be a true masterpiece of nocturnal Impressionist work, and it beautifully captures the wet and puddle filled streets as well as the street lamps. Pissarro also shows the lit-up shop windows and kiosks of the Paris of yesteryear.
10. The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is on display at the National Gallery in London
If you want to admire The Boulevard Montmartre at Night for yourself, it is surprisingly not on display in a Parisian museum! You’ll have to head to the National Gallery in London if you want to see this Impressionist painting in person.
Now that you know more about Camille Pissarro, Impressionism, and Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre series, you’re on the right track to becoming an expert in this type of painting. Well, you may not be an expert just yet, but at least you’re familiar with a few interesting facts!
If you want to learn more about French artists and art movements, why not join one of our art-focused walking tours in Paris? Click here to learn more about all of the options and to make your booking!