View of Paris from the Trocadero1883. Oil on canvas, 79 x 160 cm.
In 1883 Rico received the most significant commissions of his career: two views of Venice for the Marquis of Casa Riera and this panoramic view of Paris for Josefa de Manzanedo e Intentas, II Marchioness of Manzanedo. One of the wealthiest women of her time, she was a very close friend of Ramón de Errazu, who owned a portrait of her by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891). She had also been portrayed eight years earlier by Raimundo de Madrazo, so Rico was close to her circle. He charged her twelve thousand francs for this painting -far more than he had obtained for his works in previous years. It was also the largest canvas he had painted since 1865, when he made Washerwomen of La Varenne in a similar format. Rico had spent the summer of 1878 in Paris, helping with the installation of the Spanish pavilion at the Universal Exposition. During that period, he painted some Parisian subjects, including The Market at Avenue Joséphine, which received considerable praise from the critics. It was, however, a small panel in which the city appears in a very limited way. Among the drawings he made that summer are some broader views, especially around the Pont Neuf and La Cité. These are related to his View of Paris from the Seine, which was published as a double-page illustration by La Vie Moderne and also widely published in the United States. That appreciation may well be the source of the present commission. With its extremely horizontal format -its width more than doubles its height- this painting offers a view from close to the former Savonnerie Carpet factory at the Trocadero, one of the most elegant neighborhoods in Paris. On the Seine’s left bank, between the river and the vegetation, the Quai d’Orsay marks the diagonal line that articulates the composition. On the horizon, halfway up the canvas, are many of Paris’s main buildings. From left to right: the Louvre, the Tour de Saint Jacques, the churches of Saint-Séverin, Sainte Clothilde, Saint Germaine and Saint-Sulpice as well as the Pantheon. The grand hemispherical dome of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides appears closer to the viewer with the church of Val-de-Grâce in the distance. The placement of these buildings in the composition is geographically correct and that, along with the absence of any known preparatory studies, would seem to indicate that the artist used photographs. On the other hand, the views of the river itself, with the Pont de l’Alma in the foreground, followed by the Pont des Invalides and the Pont de la Concorde reflects a decision by the artist, rather than what he would actually have seen from this viewpoint. That compositional freedom and a taste for decoration that was especially strong at the time explain the viewpoint with the balustrade in the foreground, which is paralleled by many of Rico’s views of the Grand Canal in Venice. In this period, he also frequently included the dragon from the Borghese family’s emblem (signing the painting just below it), which also appears in Venetian works, watercolors and drawings. The flowers also reflect his fondness for decorative touches, which he may well have given free rein here because of the character of this commission. As was the case with Mariano Fortuny, the flowers offer him an opportunity to demonstrate his delicate sense of color. The blossoms and leaves on the left that appear to be camellias float over the soft gray and mauve background of the Seine, producing a subtly Oriental feeling that was much in vogue with Rico and his circle of fellow artists at that time, including Fortuny, Raimundo de Madrazo, Rogelio de Egusquiza (1845-1915) and Alfred Stevens (1823-1906), all of whom profoundly appreciated Japanese art. A clematis vine follows the camellias and in the corner near the urn, a spray of hollyhocks. This combination of white and red also predominates in the begonias to the right while the end has yellow and light-blue pansies over ivy. These plants flower in late spring or early summer and the clear atmosphere in the foreground and soft haze in the background are also in keeping with that season in Paris. The presence of a considerable diversity of elements in the composition is echoed by its variety of color and execution. The influence of Japanese prints is most closely suggested by the flowers and leaves that float over the light-blue river with colors close to pastels, while the barge below is depicted with flat, vivid tones. Rendered with loose brushstrokes in a variety of colors, these plants are not all equally complete. The lower edge is barely sketched out and markedly decorative in character. The delicate stems mark a tracery of broken and sometimes discontinuous lines that is typical of Rico’s drawings. The barges on the river are painted with vigorous brushstrokes and their reflections, like those of the pontoons, are rendered in an impressionist fashion with touches of independent color. The docks and bridges, however, are treated in a homogenous manner. Their surfaces are covered with uniform coats of creamy color and the only nuances of slightly darker tone appear in their shadows. The abundant vegetation is rendered with short, nervous brushstrokes in a variety of greens, made more luminous and vibrant by the addition of small overlapping touches of white. Despite their sketchiness and distance, the planes in the background are clearly ordered, offering a very believable sense of depth that is also reinforced by the sky. Its execution in brushstrokes that are wider than those of the trees and move in all directions brings dynamism to the composition, as does the smoke of two chimneys in the distance. The soft clarity of the sky comes from the equal distribution of predominately white clouds, some of which bear a light pinkish tinge. This led critics who saw this work and others by Rico at the Universal Exposition of 1889 to comment that his landscapes were sprinkled with the gray dustiness of heat. In 1885, the Marchioness of Manzanedo, undoubtedly pleased by this painting, acquired Rico’s Cypress Trees in Tivoli for seven thousand francs (Text drawn from Barón, J.: El paisajista Martín Rico (1833-1908), Museo Nacional del Prado, 2012, pp. 198-200).