Paintings of Paris: Capturing the City of Light on Canvas

Paintings of Paris - Edouard Léon Cortès, Place De La Bastille. Edouard Léon Cortès, Place De La Bastille. Sold for $55,000 via Scottsdale Art Auction, LLC (April 2017).

Immortalized by artists for centuries, the streets of Paris have provided the perfect canvas for some of some of the world’s most renowned artists, who have re-shaped and re-imagined the eternal muse through the perspectives and styles of The Grand Tradition, Impressionism, Modernism, and Surrealism to capture the city’s timeless allure.

Paintings of Paris - Paul Signac - Pont des Arts.

Paul Signac – Pont des Arts. Sold for CHF 4,600,000 via Koller Auctions (June 2014).

Providing a seemingly endless source of inspiration, the depictions of Paris through the years have enriched our understanding and appreciation of this iconic city. A stroll down its avenues and along the River Seine can take art fans on a journey that transcends time, as the city streets are filled with locations that have been brought to life by the interpretive eyes of artists, who have offered their own perspective on the city’s evolving romantic appeal.

Paintings of Paris - Un dimanche après-midi à l'île de la Grande Jatte - Georges Seurat.

Un dimanche après-midi à l’île de la Grande Jatte – Georges Seurat. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As a dynamic center of creativity, innovation, and cultural exchange Paris has played a pivotal role in the development of art. Its influence is evident in Eugène Delacroix’s vivid, colorful, and emotive scenes of a city in social transition, Claude Monet’s series of the Gare Saint-Lazare (below), Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhône, and Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (pictured above).

And it’s this evolution and interpretation of the city that has seen art evolve to incorporate the dramatic and atmospheric works of Delacroix, the  Post-Impressionist perception of the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, and the Neo-Impressionist brush of Paul Signac, who all brought new perspectives with their Impressionistic depictions of the city.

Its rich cultural heritage, along with its enduring appeal as a source of inspiration means that the source of many of these paintings can be taken in during a stroll through the city. This allows people to see Paris through Etienne Jeurat’s eyes, explore the streets of Montmartre that inspired van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, and see the Place de l’Europe from Gustave Caillebotte’s perspective. Or alternatively head to Musée d’Orsay, Le Louvre, or the Musee Marmottan Monet and discover just why Paris is the perpetual center of the art world.

Impressionist Impressions

Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte

Paintings of Paris - Gustave Caillebotte - Paris Street; Rainy Day

Gustave Caillebotte – Paris Street; Rainy Day (Wikimedia Commons).

Paintings of Paris -Gustave Caillebotte - Le Pont de L'Europe

Gustave Caillebotte – Le Pont de L’Europe. Sold for €1,831,890 via Artcurial (December 2013).

Searching for inspiration in the heart of city living, Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day depicts hurried people walking through The Place de Dublin, and while it’s considered an Impressionist artwork, this masterpiece differs from the broad brushstrokes of his new wave counterparts thanks to its realism and linearity. Offering a picture of urban life in the late 19th century, the painting showcases Caillebotte’s interest in photography. The pair in the foreground almost appear out of focus, while those in the background are characterized by sharp edges, and some figures are even cropped out (note the man to the far right) to further exaggerate the influence of photography.

Today the painting can be found in the Art Institute of Chicago, but visitors to Paris can also absorb the location for themselves and visit the Place de Dublin, which is presented from the eastern side of the Rue de Turin in the painting. For an enjoyable stroke of continuity, the ‘pharmacie’ depicted between the Rue de Moscou and the Rue Clapeyron is still a pharmacy today.

Get the artist’s perspective here, or visit the artwork in-person.

The Pont Neuf, Paris by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Paintings of Paris -Auguste Renoir - Pont Neuf, Paris

Auguste Renoir – Pont Neuf, Paris (Wikimedia Commons).

Painted with considerably more vigor and freshness than Caillebotte’s view of Paris, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s vision of The Pont Neuf bridge across the River Seine is bathed in brilliant white light to highlight the intensity of the artist’s palette.

Capturing the vibrancy of daily life in Paris, this masterpiece of painting light was produced in one day from an upper floor of a café (according to his brother Edmond) and was central to the development of Impressionism, with brushwork and interpretive color typical of the movement. Offering a glimpse of life in 1872 following the Franco–Prussian War, the bridge sparkles like a jewel and allows the cool tones of the people and their surroundings to stand out. Renoir’s love of painting Paris continued with Dance at the Moulin de la Galette(1876) and Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881), which are both considered among Renoir’s masterpieces.

Get the artist’s perspective here, or visit the artwork in-person.

Belle Époque Elegance

Moulin Rouge: La Goulue by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

La Goulue was one of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s favorite dancers at one of his favorite luxurious night time hangouts, the now famous Moulin Rouge. The nightclub commissioned his first poster of the dancer, who is given centre stage by a silhouetted audience to focus attention on her and her bright wight petticoat. The technique evoked Japanese art, which was in vogue among the emerging Paris bohemians. It was Toulouse-Lautrec’s first attempt at lithography and the new medium captivated the public thanks to its innovative, eye-catching design, and bold colors.

Epitomizing Toulouse-Lautrec’s boldly simplistic style, which provided a sharp break from the text-heavy posters of the day, the painting offered a snapshot of life in the artistic enclave of Montmartre. He captures late 19th century Paris in a state of social transition, with his art depicting a new urban world inhabited by artists living out bohemian ideals and embracing a new-found artistic freedom to help usher in a new liberal age of avant-garde art.

Get the artist’s perspective here, or visit the artwork in-person.

Place De La Bastille by Edouard Cortès

Rich with details and the energy of a busy Parisian evening, Place De La Bastille by Edouard Cortès captures the energy of the near reflective road, illuminated shops, and bustling nature of life in 19th-century Paris. Known as ‘Le Poète Parisien de la Peinture’ (The Parisian Poet of Painting) due to his diverse array of Paris cityscapes, this painting encapsulates Cortès’s mastery of perspective, color and atmosphere.

Evoking a sense of life in the city, Cortès’s style reflected his lifelong painterly romance with Belle Époque Paris and have proved popular at auction, with more being unearthed from surprising locations. A lost Cortès painting of a Paris street scene was discovered at a thrift store Maryland in 2008, before being sold at auction for $40,625 at Sotheby’s. And then in 2019, another undiscovered painting, also of Place de la République en Soir, was found in Paris.

Get the artist’s perspective here.

Modern Perspectives

Paris Through the Window by Marc Chagall

After moving to Paris from Russia in 1910, Marc Chagall threw himself into the city’s vibrant art scene and absorbed the various Avant-Garde movements in the French capital at the time. This was fully evident in Chagall’s ode to the Paris skyline, in which he paints semi-transparent overlapping planes of vivid color in a debt to Orphic Cubism.

Paintings of Paris - Marc Chagall – Visions de Paris.

Marc Chagall – Visions de Paris. Sold for $4,875,000 HKD via Christie’s (December 2020).

Reminiscent one of Robert Delaunay’s many Cubist paintings of the Eiffel Tower, Chagall’s utilises bright Fauvist color to reflect modernity, with a nod to the first successful parachute jump in 1912 included. His exile from Russia is even represented by an upside-down train that can’t take him home, while the Janus figure in the foreground and the cat with a human-like face mirror the Jewish belief that dead sinners often return as cats to haunt family members.

Visit the artwork in-person.

View from Vincent’s Window by Vincent van Gogh

Moving to Paris opened up a world of artistic possibilities to Vincent van Gogh, as shown in his experimental View from Vincent’s Window. Exposed to the emerging Impressionist and Pointillist art movements from his artistic enclave in Montmartre, van Gogh’s art absorbed new techniques that led him to use lighter colors in his work. His representation of the view from his window incorporates Impressionist infused brushwork and experiments with impressionistic color.

Looking out from the apartment window that van Gogh shared with his brother Theo on Rue Lepic, the painting is representative of a pivotal period from March 1886 until February 1888 in Vincent’s career. While in Paris forged a strongly personal style overflowing with influences from Pointillism to Japanese prints – and his view from the window showcases this experimental zeal of this era.

Get the artist’s perspective here


Sources: MetMuseum.org – School of Paris | Artsy.net – French Art history in a Nutshell | WideWalls.ch – What Makes Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street Rainy Day So Special? | NGA.gov | Renoir.net | TheArtStory.org – Pierre Auguste Renoir | MetMuseum.org – Moulin Rouge: La Goulue | MoMA.org – Moulin Rouge, La Goulue | Artsy.net – Edouard-Léon Cortès – Parisian Street Scene, 1919-1969 | Guggenheim.org – Marc Chagall, Paris through the Window (Paris par la fenêtre) | VanGoghMuseum.nl – Boulevard de Clichy