2. The Paint Site

"Le Parc" becomes "Souvenir des Bords de L'Oise"


The name "Le Parc" (provenance) is deceptive and is not correct. "Le Parc" has connotations of the Bois de Boulogne where Morisot painted many scenes during her career. There is no record of this painting in the Catalogue Raisonne nor in the Document Center or Research Library of the Musee d'Orsay. Further, the style or size of the painting is not consistent with the many works for which Morisot is recognized, and is definitely not in any way similar to her Bois de Boulogne paintings. However, it was during a research visit to the Musee d'Orsay that the focus switched to a river scene (as compared to a lake scene in the Bois de Boulogne).


It is well documented that Morisot painted river landscapes in small format on the banks of the river Oise in her earlier career, at Le Chou. This painting shows a river looking northerly with a bend to the east in the distance (the directions provided by the sunset to the west).  A boathouse is located in the left foreground and houses with red roofs occupy the center foreground. The river bends to the East behind a field which exhibits touches of smoke (and flame!). When looking closely at the center right of the canvas, two horizontal brown lines can be discerned. This is actually a railway bridge (made of wood and wrought iron) on the railway line from Paris to Auvers. This railway line was built in 1846 (SNCF records) and was responsible for the development of tourism, particularly making the Pointoise/Auvers area a destination for the Paris bourgeoisie and artists who now had ready access to the countryside form Paris. (The bridge was replaced with steel construction in 1891 and 1892).  But in any event, the smoke (and flame) shown in the right middle foreground of the canvas is probably railway engine related.


Le Chou is located about 3 km South of Auvers, (figures 2.1). Between le Chou and Auvers the river bends the East at le Valhermeil. A walk along the bank of the river to Auvers indicates that there can be little doubt this work was created in that location. This can be seen by comparing the early post card of the Valhermeil dated 1914, (at figure 2.2) with the painting. In fact, the motif of the painting has been created from the post-card image by computer modeling (see figures 2.3 through 2.8). Even to-day, a photo of the river bank (figure 2.9) can be converted to the motif of the painting (figure 2.10).


The boat house in the left foreground (see "L'Oise 1863) was typical for the locale. To-day, boat landings (for small boats) are in evidence along the tow-path. Also to-day, some houses can be discerned in the middle foreground trees, however, the boat-house is gone, and the area given over to back-gardens. The older houses in the immediate vicinity to-day, have red roofs. This is uncommon for the region but is reflected in the painting. The well dressed woman to the left would appear to be traveling with a suitcase to a holiday home along the river, or alternatively, waiting for a boatman to transport her elsewhere. This was probably not an uncommon site at the time given the destination nature of the locale for the Paris bourgeoisie. 


Because the paint site is definitively identified, it means that it was painted by Morisot in 1863, during her summer stay at Le Chou. At that time she was only 22 years old and she was learning her craft. All the chroniclers (Mongan, Higgonet, Shennan, Rouart et al) document this period. Indeed, it is also documented that she did river landscapes in small format (Shennan at page 52, Dennis Rouart at page 20). At that time Morisot and her sister were under the tutelage of Archille Oudinot (a Barbizon painter) but were also influenced by Corot who had been their tutor prior to Oudinot.


It is believed that Berthe Morisot kept only two of her works from that period ("Chemin a Auvers" and "Souvenir des Bords de L'Oise"). The rest she apparently destroyed (Mongan chronology page 23, Shennan at page 48). The two works referenced above were shown at the Salon des Beaux Arts in 1864, marking Morisot's debut at this prestigious event. Wheras Shennan states at page 53 that neither of these paintings "appeared to have survived" the catalogue raisonné (Clairet, Montalent and Rouart) indicates that “Le Vieux Chemin a Auvers” is in a private collection in London and that “Souvenir des Bords de L’Oise has disappeared. However, all the evidence indicates that "Le Parc" is in fact, "Souvenir des Bords de l'Oise" and that the disappearance can be attributed to  miss-cataloguing and the long hibernation in a single family collection.

 Follow this link to appropriate images: Figures 2.1 to 2.10