Inscription: Recto, in pencil at l.r. below plate, "Vue du Palais de Justice. Paris Mars 1854, 2e Etat;" and in pencil at
l.l. "LD.W 34v Le Pont au Change Fine proof on old paper;" Verso, Baumfeld's stamp at l.l.; other pencil annotations at u.r.
Provenance: William Schab, New York; Rudolf L. Baumfeld, Los Angeles
Scope and Content:
Charles Meryon's earliest prints were copies after etchings by old masters such as Karel Dujardin, Salvator Rosa, Adriaen
van de Velde, and especially Reynier Nooms, called Zeeman, whose clarity and precision of detail greatly impressed Meryon.
These were followed by numerous etchings of the city of Paris, the most famous of which were published between 1850 and 1854
as the series Eaux-Fortes sur Paris, among which Le Pont-au-Change is numbered. Meryon received several important commissions
during the late 1850s, and his works were exhibited at the Salon, but he was increasingly plagued by financial hardship and
mental instability. In 1859 he met Charles Baudelaire, who greatly admired his prints and tried to foster his artistic career
by arranging for the reprinting of Eaux-Fortes sur Paris. Meryon's etchings were exhibited at the Salons of 1863 to 1867,
and in 1863 a catalogue of his works was published in the prestigious "Gazette des beaux-arts."
Meryon's urban views documented a Paris that was rapidly vanishing in the wake of Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann's radical
transformations of the city in the 1840s. Rather than engendering a romantic nostalgia for a "lost" France, however, Meryon's
views of urban life are ominous reflections of the increasingly depersonalized city.
The expansive, panoramic view of Paris in Le Pont-au-Change is somewhat unusual for Meryon, whose cityscapes were generally
more limited in scope. Just beyond the Pont-au-Change, one sees the tower of the Pompe Notre-Dame, and to the right, on the
Ile de la Cite, are the Palais de Justice and the Tour de l'Horloge. In various states Meryon reworked the fantastic imagery
that appears in the sky, each time altering the meaning of the print. The fifth state was the first published edition of the
print. The balloon in the sky bears the word SPERANZA (Italian for "hope"), as if to comment on the man floundering in the
river near a small boat, ignored by the boaters as they watch the balloon. In the seventh state Meryon penciled reclining
females, a snake, and a chariot in the clouds, although these changes were never rendered on the copper plate. The next major
revision of the print occurred in the tenth state, when Meryon added a crescent moon and a large flock of birds that circle
the city in a predatory manner. It has been suggested that Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven may have inspired this alteration.
The eleventh state underwent a dramatic change; the menacing birds were removed, and a series of small balloons were added,
endowing the print with a more lighthearted, whimsical character. In 1854 Meryon wrote the poem "L'Esperance" to accompany
the print and metaphorically parallel the image.