La Rue des Martyrs, Paris in the Snow
(Hippolyte-Camille Delpy)


By the mid-1870s, the frontlines in the battle for leadership in landscape painting no longer ran through the fields of Normandy or the forests of the Ile-de-France. The most exciting advances occurred right in the center of Paris itself — along Baron Haussman’s new boulevards and beneath the arching girders of the new train stations — or out on the rutted, unpaved streets of the new suburbs being opened up to the north and west of the capital. Hippolyte-Camille Delpy was one of the most interesting young artists bringing the effort to re-examine the world right around himself into the arena of the annual Salon exhibitions. La Rue des Martyrs; Paris in the Snow, shown in 1876, was about as current and modern as a landscape painting could be. The site is the corner of the Boulevard Rochechouart and the Rue des Martyrs, a few blocks from Delpy’s own apartment in Montmartre and just down the Boulevard Clichy from the center of Paris’s most sensational nightlife, the Place Pigalle. Anchoring the composition on the left is the distinctive circular (actually sixteen-sided) building of the Cirque Fernando which had just opened its doors in spring of the preceding year. And a cover story in the popular weekly Le Journal Illustré for January 23, 1876 describes a particularly heavy snowfall, singling out La Rue des Martyrs as especially treacherous for pedestrians and omnibuses. The wet, muddy snow melting away in the foreground of Delpy’s painting is probably the remnant of that January storm. [1]

Delpy learned his craft under the tutelage of both Daubigny and Corot, but the long, tactile paint strokes that suggest clinging snow in La Rue des Martyrs… and the particularly rich greens and ruddy-browns of the storefronts abutting the Cirque Fernando reflect the primacy of Daubigny’s example in Delpy’s painting campaigns of the 1870s. With the decision to paint his own rapidly changing neighborhood under the gray skies and damp weight of a fading storm, however, Delpy placed himself solidly among his own generation. He knew the work of Monet, Sisley, and Pissarro well from joint painting expeditions in Auvers and on the Normandy coast, and he shared their interest in the power of changing sky and weather conditions to transform every experience of a familiar landscape, although he never accepted the Impressionists’ resistance to the Salon. As early as 1869, Delpy began painting city snowscapes and when he took the bold step of exhibiting a snow-clad Montmartre street scene in 1875, he received extraordinary support. Castagnary (the liberal critic who had championed Courbet), complained in the important journal Le Siècle that “[Delpy’s] Boulevard de Rochechouart sous la neige is an extremely original work, a new effort that should have been encouraged. Why wasn’t he given a medal?” [2] Delpy immediately followed up on that encouragment with a more complex snow scene the following year. Even before the Salon of 1876, La Rue des Martyrs… was being talked about in artistic circles, with the magazine L’Évènement predicting in February that Delpy’s painting would create a sensation at the Salon that year. [3] La Rue des Martyrs… did help to make Delpy’s name as an original and daring young artist and for several years afterward, critics continued to mention the picture as a landmark in the artist’s achievement; but it did not win him any awards. In 1876, the Salon authorities may have been willing to exhibit such an impressionistic painting, but they were not yet prepared to honor it.

[1] See Washington, D.C., Phillips Collection, Impressionists in Winter, exhibition catalogue, 1998, for an extensive record of Parisian snowfalls during the the 1860s and 1870s.

[2] Jules Castagnary, “Le Salon de 1875,” in Le Siècle, May 29, 1875, page unknown, quoted in Michèle Lannoy-Duputel, Hippolyte-Camille Delpy, 1842-1910: Invitation au Voyage, Paris, n.d., p. 42.

[3] Unknown author, L’Évènement, February 12, 1876, quoted in Lannoy-Duputel, op. cit, p. 45.

30 by 50 inches (76.2 by 127 cm.)
Oil on canvas

PROVENANCE: Private Colletcion, USA.


LITERATURE: Laurent Pichat, “Le Salon de 1876,” Le Phare de la Loire, June 26, 1876; Michèle Lannoy-Duputel, Hippolyte-Camille Delpy, 1842-1910: Invitation au Voyage, Paris, n.d., pp 44-45. (Cites further salon reviews with incomplete documentation.)


EXHIBITED: Paris, 1876, Salon, no. 616.
Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Matthiesen, ‘The Gallic Prospect’, 1999

Where is It?
Acquired by a Private Collector
Historical Period
Realism to Impressionism - 1840-1900
1999-An Eye on Nature II: The Gallic Prospect. French Landscape Painting 1785-1900.
Hard back catalogue of the Exhibition held in New York. 195 pages fully illustrated with 37 full colour plates and 65 black and white illustrations (many full page). Forward by Patrick Matthiesen and Guy Stair Sainty. Introduction by Guy Stair Sainty. £35 or $50 inc. p.&p.

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