1910: When the Water Rose…

July 16th, 2010 | posted by Ludovic Rousset

100 years ago, France saw the worst flood in the history since the 17th century. Due to the surplus of rain, snow and frost, the Seine River overflowed and rose from 12 to 28 feet in Paris and flooded 12 of the 20 districts which caused a lot of damage. It took 35 days for the river to retreat to its normal level.

Further West in Rouen, the Seine River rose up to 32 feet and flooded most of the valley. Rouen, the city of Joan of Arc’s judgment and Monet’s Cathedral of Notre-Dame, is the third largest port in France and the capital of Normandy.

The one hundred steeples, bridges and arches, the Seine and its quays, its smoke, its ships and clouds make up a most intricate landscape that attracted Impressionist painters such as Corot, Boudin, Monet, Pissarro or Gauguin during the second half of the 19th century. They found there a unique feel of changing atmosphere and foggy air.

The term “School of Rouen” was first used in 1902 by Arsène Alexandre to designate the impressionism branch of Rouen. The School of Rouen is defined as a set of young painters born between 1849 and 1890 in Rouen, who did not only understood the method of Impressionism, but helped to develop.

For his painting Inundations, Narcisse Guilbert (1878-1942) used his remarkable technique to illustrate this historical catastrophe but also to challenge himself to paint this new landscape which he used to be so familiar with.

He chose to depict the river from up on a hill. This upper view allowed him to show a larger portion of the river and its surroundings. A perfect and comprehensive perspective is organized through the interaction between the sky and the water.

This painting is a great example of Guilbert’s work. We can clearly observe his influences and it shows his incredible ability to transform a devastated land into a harmonious composition. Guilbert was able through his work to express his attachment to his homeland but also to capture the light of the perpetually changing climate of Rouen….

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