Self-guided walks

The first of these walks follows the north bank of the River Oise from slightly south-west of the town centre for several kilometers in an north-easterly direction towards Auvers-sur-Oise. The local tourist organisation has thoughtfully erected a series of display panels along the route featuring the works of Pissarro and these panels will be used to punctuate the walk. They are indicated by numbered symbols on the map and in the text. The second walk is around the area called L’Hermitage which is to the north-east of the town centre and although there are no informative panels along the route, it takes only a little imagination to locate the probable sites of several paintings by Pissarro and Cézanne.


Walk 1 – Banks of the Oise
It is best to start this walk with the first of the display panels erected by the tourist organisation and this is situated to the south-west of the town centre. Assuming arrival at the railway station, turn right into Rue Séré Depoin at the end of Place du Général de Gaulle. Where the road forks bear to the right along Rue du Vert Buisson and this will lead to the main road along the north bank of the river.


Turn right under the railway bridge and cross the road to find the riverside pathway and continue along here until Chemin de la Pelouse bears off to the left. Follow this quiet lane with woodland and private grounds on the right and the river on the left. Eventually the Isle Saint-Martin will come into view on the left and a little further along is the first display panel [1].

This shows Bords de l’Oise à Pontoise by Camille Pissarro painted in 1872. The country lane on the left of the picture is essentially the same but the barrage across the river is now a very modern affair with a gantry connecting to the island and with raiseable gates to control the flow of the river – quite an impressive piece of engineering. Inspite of this it is easy to place oneself where the artist set up his easel and it is interesting to compare Pissarro’s picture with that painted by Cézanne in 1881 entitled Le pont et le barrage à Pontoise which must have been painted from almost the same place.

Continue along the riverside path for as long as possible and assuming the relandscaping of the area has been completed the next display panel [3] will be reached. This shows Le Pont de Pontoise, quai Fontaine and again the scene is much changed today, mainly because the road bridge is now a large, rather brutal, two-span metal structure. There is still a huddle of older buildings on the far side of the bridge but otherwise Pissarro would hardly recognise the prospect.

Just beyond the major road junction with Boulevard Juan Jaurés on the left, the next panel [4] showing Pissarro’s Vue du Quai du Pothius, is situated on riverbank footpath. This is a relatively early work, completed in 1868, and there is little of the original fabric recorded in the painting left to see. Looking back downstream, the road and rail bridges now have a very different appearance and most of the old buildings on the Quai du Pothius, including those where Pissarro and Cézanne once resided, have been swept away to be replaced by rather undistinguished residential developments.

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Eventually the ever-present main road to the left of the footpath bears slightly to the left away from the riverbank but it is possible to continue along a pathway between gardens on one side and the river on the other. The path passes through the grounds of the ‘Au Paradis’ restaurant which offers waterside dining and after a little while longer a small carpark is reached on the left side. In the corner by the roadside is the final display panel [7] which shows Paysages près de Pontoise, la route d’Auvers-sur-Oise painted in 1879. Inevitably the road is much busier and four wheels have replaced two legs as far as transport is concerned, and there are many more buildings to be seen. It is doubtful that Pissarro would set up his easel in quite the same place now, although by way of compensation there is the ‘Hostellerie du Maupertu’ just across the road which would probably offer welcome, if slightly expensive, sustainance at the end-point of this first walk.

Walk 2 – L’Hermitage
L’Hermitage is a district to the north-east of the old town of Pontoise which occupies a steep-sloped ravine and was traditionally an area occupied by market gardens and small-holdings. It was here, at 26 Rue de l’Hermitage, that Pissarro chose to live for a while and an area that he and other artists made the subject of many pictures. Because of the humble nature of many of the cottages that feature in the paintings of the period, it is quite difficult to pinpoint the exact locations as these dwellings have been replaced or improved beyond recognition. However, a walk around the district on the very quiet roads and footpaths gives a clear sense of the charm and character of the place that was so attractive to Pissarro and his friends.

Starting at the point on the Quai du Pothius where the Rue de l’Hermitage branches off, proceed up the gentle incline until an information booth on the left side of the road is reached. Here, at the time of writing, there is an illustrated map showing the ‘general’ location of five Pissarro paintings compared to recent photographs and this provides an interesting route around the area.

Proceed uphill until the junction with Rue Adrien le Moine and turn right up this road. Almost immediately on the right there is the gated entrance to number 2. In the busier months of the year it is possible to gain entry here to the ‘Jardin de l’Hermitage’ and this is probably where Pissarro painted Potager et arbres en fleurs, printemps, Pontoise in 1877 [1]. As with many paintings, Cézanne chose almost exactly the same view for his Le jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise, completed in the same year. Out of season it is disappointing to find this gate locked but by walking a little further up the road it is possible to glimpse a charming garden through the gates of number 10 which evokes the spirit of the paintings.


Return to Rue de l’Hermitage and proceed uphill for a short distance and then branch off to the left up Rue Vielle de l’Hermitage. Follow this curving road until the Sente des Toits Rouges turns off to the left. This lane takes its name from Pissarro’s painting, Les toits rouges, coin de village, effet d’hiver [2] and there is still a charming huddle of buildings at the end of the lane, although their roofs are not as red as the road name, and the painting, suggest. In the artist’s time the Jallais Hill behind the houses is almost completely occupied by gardens but now the area is more developed.

Continue along the Rue Vielle de l’Hermitage until it rejoins the main road and here turn right until the junction with Rue Maria Deraismes on the left-hand side. Turn up this road and start to climb uphill. There is a car park on the left and a rather neglected and overgrown walled area on the right with the hill rising up behind. Looking at Pissarro’s Jardin potager à l’Hermitage [3] it is likely that he set up his easel in a delightful cottage garden where he would now find parked vehicles, looking towards the rear of buildings on Rue Adrien le Moine with the wall and untidy hillside in the middle distance.

As the road bears round to the left take a right turn and climb steeply uphill around the end of the abandoned garden. This pathway passes some cottages on the left and then evidence of ruined dwellings before joining Rue Adrien le Moine. In Pissarro’s Les Côteaux de l’Hermitage [4] painted in about 1867, it is possible that the artist positioned himself a little further back down Rue Adrien le Moine and depicted a cluster of buildings on the left where the pathway joins the road before bearing right uphill. The idyllic rural scene is now much changed with many more buildings but it is still possible to pick out one or two distinctive features.

The walk is continued by turning left into Rue Adrien le Moine and climbing uphill for a short distance until a footpath called Sente des Gratte-Coqs (path of the scratching cockerels) branches off to the left. This pathway leads around the ravine and there are wonderful views from quite an elevated position across the settlement to the Jallais Hill opposite with plenty of evidence of cultivated gardens between the houses that have traditionally been characteristic of the area. It is possible that it is from this footpath that Pissarro painted La Côte du Jalais à Pontoise [5], a view across the valley to the hill on the opposite side. If that is the case then Cézanne positioned himself in almost the same place to paint a picture with exactly the same title.



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Bords de l’Oise à Pontoise, 1872, Pissarro (Private collection)

Le pont de chemin de fer, Pontoise, 1873, Pissarro

(Private collection)

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Le Pont de Pontoise, Quai Fontaine, 1878, Pissarro (courtesy of Yamagata Art Museum)

Vue du Quai du Pothuis, 1868, Pissarro (courtesy of Tel Aviv Museum of Art)

The traffic noise now subsides a little and the footpath leaves the roadside to follow the modestly landscaped riverbank with occasional but very welcome seats. A little way past the road junction with Rue de l’Hermitage on the left (a road that will be re-visited in the second walk), there is a display panel [5] showing Quai du Pothius, Soliel d’hiver, Pontoise. This again looks back downstream and inspite of the many changes to the built environment, it is still possible to get a sense of what Pissarro saw from here. Although the road bridge is very different, the riverside walk remains much the same with the hazily defined mass of the old town on the high ground rising up behind. The mid-stream island remains wooded and reflections still dance on the surface of the water.

Quai du Pothuis, Soleil d’hiver, Pontoise, 1882, Pissarro (Private collection)

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The riverside path continues with the water on one side and the road to Auvers on the other. This is the route along which Pissarro, often in the company of friends like Cézanne, would walk, carrying easels, paints and canvas. The villas along this stretch of the Quai Eugène Turpin are often very grand and sometimes quirky in their architectural style. The building that now houses the Algerian consulate at number 23 is a particularly good example. The river is still busy with barge traffic, although the vessels are giants compared to those that Pissarro recorded in many of his paintings.

Further along the footpath is the panel [6] showing L’Oise aux environs de Pontoise painted by Pissarro in 1873. In many ways the view here is lttle changed. Although the collection of industrial buildings on the far bank is a little different in appearance, there is still a factory chimney in the middle of the picture and the mid-stream island in the distance remains wooded in the same way. The modern world makes its presence felt with tower blocks appearing above the treeline.

L’Oise aux environs de Pontoise, 1873, Pissarro (courtesy of Sterling and Francine Clark Institute/www.clarkart.edu)

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There is now a choice between walking back to Pontoise along the same route or continuing in the footsteps of Pissarro in the direction of Auvers-sur-Oise until the railway station of Chaponval is reached and where a train can be caught back to Pontoise or on to Auvers.

Paysages près de Pontoise, la route d’Auvers-sur-Oise, 1879, Pissarro (Private collection/courtesy of www.camille-pissarro.org)

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Potager et arbres en fleurs, printemps, Pontoise, 1877, Pissarro (courtesy of Musée d’Orsay/www.musee-orsay.fr)

Les toits rouges, coin de village, effet d’hiver, 1877, Pissarro (courtesy of Musée d’Orsay/www.musee-orsay.fr)

The footpath eventually meets another lane called Rue des Mathurins and here turn left downhill. There are remains of a substantial stone wall on the left and this is probably the boundary wall of what was once the convent of Les Mathurins. A grand building remains although it is now a private school. The building and its garden featured in several paintings by Pissarro including Le jardin des Mathurins à Pontoise [6]. The lane continues downhill and joins the main road, Rue de l’Hermitage.

This road curves to the right away from the village and by taking a short diversion from the route of the walk the place is reached where Pissarro probably set up his easel to paint Rue de l’Hermitage, Pontoise [7], with the dominant building of Les Mathurins featuring in the centre left of the picture. Cézanne painted almost exactly the same view in his Le Clos des Mathurins à Pontoise, and as they were both painted in 1875 it is possible that the two artists worked side-by-side.

The walk is continued by turning off the main road to the left up a track called Rue Paul Déroulede. This is quite a steep incline and leads to a memorial statue of the Virgin Mary. The lane then turns sharply to the left and continues uphill through trees on both sides and soon narrows to a footpath. This is called Sente des Grivières and follows the contours of the head of the ravine at a high level affording wonderful views across the settlement with the neatly tended gardens again in evidence. It is from these elevated foothpaths around l’Hermitage that both artists painted numerous canvases, including Le Chemin montant l’Hermitage, Pontoise by Pissarro [8].

Jardin potager à l’Hermitage, 1879, Pissarro (courtesy of Musée d’Orsay/www.musee-orsay.fr)

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Les Côteaux de l’Hermitage, 1867, Pissarro (courtesy of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York/ www.guggenheim.org)

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La Côte du Jalais à Pontoise, 1867, Pissarro  (courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/ www.metmuseum.org)

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Le Jardin des Mathurins à Pontoise, 1876, Pissarro  (courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City/www.nelson-atkins.org)

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Rue de l’Hermitage, Pontoise, 1875, Pissarro  (courtesy of Kunstmuseum, Basel)

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Le Clos des Mathurins à Pontoise, 1875, Cézanne  (courtesy of Pushkin State Museum, Moscow)

Follow the pathway until it joins Chemin des Bottes and here turn right uphill for a short distance until turning left onto Chemin des Fortes Terres. This is now a quiet residential area with much recent development of desirable housing occupying the crest of the Jalais Hill. Pissarro and Cézanne would hardly recognise the scene today but the ‘spirit of place’ remains. Continue downhill until the road joins Rue Gambetta and then follow this towards the centre of the old town of Pontoise. All the time the atmosphere of the idyllic rural community gradually gives way to more modern building until the looming glass and concrete mass of the new Palais de Justice brings the twenty first century into uncompromising focus.

The road skirts this building and turns to the right to become Place Nicolas Flamel and then Rue Jules Lambert until it joins the very busy road of Boulevard Juan Juares. There is now absolutely no doubt that the modern world has been rejoined but just to finish the walk on a more visually attractive note cross the road and proceed down Rue Delacour until the Place Grand Martroy is reached. This is a delightful space with old, human-scaled buildings on all sides.

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Le pont et le barrage à Pontoise, 1881, Cézanne (courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York/www.moma.org)

Now retrace the route back towards the town passing the Cafe Restaurant du Barrage on the left and a rowing club on the far bank of the river. Just before this quiet lane rejoins the busy main road there is another panel [2] showing Pissarro’s Le pont de chemin de fer, Pontoise. This must have been painted down by the river’s edge and the view is much changed. The railway bridge as it appears in the painting has been replaced by a much larger structure to carry several lines in and out of the bustling station and the road bridge beyond is also much more recent. The banks of the river are lined with new, larger scale buildings and it takes quite a leap of imagination to envision the scene that Pissarro committed to canvas.

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Le Chemin montant l’Hermitage, 1875, Pissarro  (courtesy of Brooklyn Museum, New York/ www.brooklynmuseum.org)

Take a right turn out of the square and this leads to Rue de Gisors. Cross the road and look to the left down Place du Petit Martroy with the cathedral church of Saint-Maclou on the left side. This is instantly recogniseable as the view in Ludovic Piette’s painting Le marché aux légumes, Pontoise [9], although the picturesque market stalls are replaced on most days by parked cars. However it is not difficult to step back 150 years into the view seen by the artist and his original painting can be seen in the Camille Pissarro Museum located in the grounds of the old chateau and castle. He painted several other views of the old town and by turning left into Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville at the end of Place du Petit Martroy and following this partly pedestrianised street to the town hall square the scene of his Le marché de la place de l’Hôtel de Ville à Pontoise [10] is reached. This is slightly more changed today but it is still possible to pick out some distinctive features.

This completes the walk and there is a welcoming café/bar in the square for refreshment before returning to the railway station. However, the Musée Tavet-Delacour is very close by and this is worth a visit. A little further away, the Musée Camille Pissarro really shouldn’t be missed as this houses an impressive collection of paintings by Pissarro and other notable artists and provides a fitting conclusion to the walks around the area.

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Le marché aux légumes, Pontoise, 1877, Piette  (courtesy of Musées de Pontoise)

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Le marché de l’Hôtel de Ville à Pontoise, 1876, Piette  (courtesy of Musées de Pontoise)

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