The Demolition of the houses on the Pont au Change
© BPK, Berlin, dist. RMN - Grand Palais / BStGS image
Publication date: November 2015
University of Evry-Val d'Essonne
The ruins of the city
This painting illustrates one of the great facets of Hubert Robert's artistic life, that of the painter of urban reality and in particular Parisian town planning at the end of the 18th century.e century.
In the years preceding the French Revolution, several major projects were launched by the monarchy and municipal authorities. In 1786, the houses built on the Notre-Dame bridge were destroyed, an operation represented by the painter. Two years later, the demolition of the dwellings on the Pont au Change once again captured the artist's interest and his sense of observation. Rebuilt in the middle of the 17th centurye century, this work of art owes its name to the money changer shops that occupied the site. It then ensures the junction between the Grand Châtelet and the Ile de la Cité.
About fifty years old, the author continues in his own way his passion for architectural ruins, presented here in the heart of the Parisian landscape. At the same time, Hubert Robert was a member of the committee responsible for organizing the royal collections, a step prior to the creation of the Louvre.
Acquired in 1968 from a Parisian collector by the Bayerische Hypotheken- und Wechselbank, this painting is permanently deposited at the Neue Pinakothek in Munich. Another version of this scene, owned by the Palace of Versailles, is on display at the Carnavalet museum.
The destructive process
Hubert Robert sets the scene in the heart of the demolition site, while the workers are at work. He places his easel in the center of the deck, with a play of perspective supported by a long line of flight following the axis of the bridge and rue Saint-Barthélemy on the Île de la Cité. This technique allows him to widen the foreground considerably in order to animate many characters.
Workers are busy on all planes of the board and on all levels of the bridge. Several of them carefully put together old beams, the wood of which is essential for the construction sector or for heating Parisians. Stone blocks are also set aside, possibly for recycling for other construction. A guard armed with a rifle is present to ensure law and order and prevent any looting on the site.
The houses are largely destroyed, with large piles of rubble on either side of the street. The debris gives a glimpse of the old rows of arcades that covered shops. On the left in the background, two buildings comprising at least six floors are being demolished, with a crane below. Opposite, one notices the Conciergerie buildings, including the famous Clock Tower which served as a reference point for the royal roads. The spire of the Sainte-Chapelle is also visible.
Enlightenment town planning
Through this work, Hubert Robert describes a city which is modernizing itself and is undergoing a real architectural transformation. During the second half of the XVIIIe century, Paris is a permanent site and various works concern the bridges. The tall houses depicted three decades earlier in the paintings of Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas Raguenet weaken the supporting structures of bridges, in particular arches, with repeated collapses. In a few years, the houses on two of the three bridges of the north arm of the Seine were destroyed. At the same time, the Louis-XVI bridge (future Concorde bridge) is under construction, while the Neuilly bridge, also painted by Hubert Robert, is decentered in 1772 in the presence of Louis XV, which allows open up town planning to the west of the capital.
Beyond the security approach, these projects contribute to the dissemination of hygienic theories. These recommend opening up space to improve circulation and fight the spread of epidemic diseases. These operations also open up the landscape, with new perspectives on the main monuments of the capital thus staged.
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To cite this article
Stéphane BLOND, "Le pont au Change"