The Boulevard de Clichy under Snow

This is one of the best known quasi-impressionist paintings of Paris, yet few recall the artist.

The French painter and etcher Norbert Goeneutte (1854-94) was one of the illustrators of Émile Zola’s scandalous novel La Terre.

Norbert-Goeneutte(1880)Born in Paris, Goeneutte enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1872. He was among the regulars at the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes – the meeting place of the Impressionists in the place Pigalle (where Degas painted “L’Absinthe” and Satie played the piano). There he got to know Renoir, Monet, and Camille Pissarro.

In 1875, Goeneutte posed for Renoir as one of the customers in the painting “Dance at the Moulin de la Galette”, in which he is seated on the right smoking a pipe. He also appeared in Renoir’s “The Swing”, peering out from behind a tree.

Goeneutte did not show his work at any of the exhibitions of the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers (later to be known as the Impressionists). Like Manet, he preferred the official Paris Salon, where he made his debut in 1876 with “The Boulevard de Clichy under Snow”.

The painting has a peculiar attraction. Two fiacres (horse-drawn taxi cabs) have just passed by and a woman with her back to the viewer is crossing the slushy street. A bearded man with his hands in a muffler is standing aimlessly by and a young flâneur may be about to accost her. On the pavement opposite, a second woman wearing a colourful coat is approaching and behind her a woman in an orange scarf seems to be ineffectually sweeping the path with a besom.

One imagines who they might be and their stories, but the painting is really no more than a snapshot in the life of a Parisian quartier fifteen years before the Moulin Rouge was built nearby – a lure for people to see the indecorous can-can much admired by the composer Offenbach and depicted on several posters by Goeneutte’s contemporary, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Goeneutte travelled in France as well as abroad, including to London and Venice. In 1889, he was one of the founders of the Société des Peintres-graveurs Français and that same year exhibited at the Exposition Universelle held in the shadow of the newly built Eiffel Tower.

In 1891, Vincent Van Gogh’s doctor Paul-Ferdinand Gachet diagnosed Goeneutte with a weak heart. Gachet suggested he take some rest at Auvers-sur-Oise, north-west of Paris, where he painted a portrait of the doctor (more realistic than the famous one by Van Gogh) and where three years later he succumbed to tuberculosis. In 1894, Goeneutte was buried in the local cemetery, not far from Van Gogh himself.

The Boulevard de Clichy under Snow 1876 by Norbert Goeneutte 1854-1894

Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.