The decentering of the Neuilly bridge

The decentering of the Neuilly bridge

The decentering of the Pont de Neuilly, September 22, 1772

© RMN-Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz

Publication date: July 2016

University of Evry-Val d'Essonne

Historical context

Celebrate major equipment works

This painting, completed in 1775, represents the opening of the arches of the Pont de Neuilly on September 22, 1772.

By this date, Hubert Robert is an artist well established in the salons and circles of art patrons, who multiply their commissions. Multiplying his contributions each year, he forged a great reputation.

Attracted by the sights of the city, Hubert Robert attends the event he represents on this canvas. This second canvas is a copy of the painting presented at the Salon of 1775 under the no 70, along with eight other paintings by the artist.

In his analysis of the Salon, Denis Diderot delivers a scathing commentary on the canvas and indicates the name of the sponsor: “Ah! Mr. Robert, that this Decentering of the Neuilly bridge is poor, badly colored, without effect! Bad faces! This is a great gift for M. de Trudaine! "

In 1769, Jean-Charles-Philibert Trudaine de Montigny took over from his father as finance manager in charge of Bridges and Roads. He supervises the construction of this structure, which contributes to the effort to equip the monarchy with transport infrastructure.

Image Analysis

The spectacle of a construction site

This current affairs picture focuses on a fundamental stage in the construction of the first stone bridge in Neuilly. The artist brings together on this canvas two themes he is fond of: ruins and demolitions, and the emblematic architecture of cities.

In this composition, the artist breaks with his habit of decorating the scene with carefully drawn characters. Here, the immense crowd of spectators is only suggested by a multitude of silhouettes. This sketched character is also visible at the level of the covered gallery and the tent erected for the king, which Denis Diderot does not fail to criticize: “But, Robert, you have been making sketches for so long, could not- do you a finished painting? "

In reality, the artist focuses his brush on the work of art. This one, located in the middle part of the canvas and placed in the light, is seen from the left bank of the Seine, at the level of the capstan which winds the rope attached to the hanger of the fifth arch. The painter seeks to capture the crucial moment of the detachment of the wooden hangers that support the voussoirs forming the arches. The campaign to remove the hangers began on August 14, 1772. On September 22, the last stage, the most delicate and the most spectacular, took place; in fact, in order not to weaken the building, the fall of the trusses from the hangers must not generate excessive pressure on the piles. The painting by Hubert Robert is a snapshot of this action, with the fall of the wooden frames in a great upheaval and the eddies of the Seine.


An architectural feat

This ceremony, which amounts to inaugurating the new building, did not interrupt the work which continued until 1779. The whole symbol was due to the presence of Louis XV and the striking of a medal, underlining the investment of the 'State for works of art.

This painting thus evokes the architectural innovations developed by the royal body of Ponts et Chaussées. The longitudinal view allows you to observe the five wide-opening arches designed by Jean Rodolphe Perronet, first engineer of Ponts et Chaussées and tutelary figure of the school of this administrative body. He designed low-slung arches like a basket handle, with an opening of 120 feet, while the piers were only 13 feet wide. On the canvas, the detached hangers also allow you to appreciate the delicacy of the right apron. As early as 1768, this innovative architectural approach was encouraged by Trudaine father and son.

Finally, this work by Hubert Robert praises the metamorphoses and reconfigurations of urban space, like The School of Surgery under construction or The Demolition of the houses on the Notre-Dame Bridge in 1786. The Pont de Neuilly replaces wooden frame bridges, a silhouette of which can be seen in the background, in the form of an out-of-date construction. In terms of town planning, this building opens up horizons because it extends to the west the perspective formed by the avenue des Champs-Élysées and the new Place de l'Etoile.

  • Paris
  • town planning
  • Seine
  • bridge
  • road
  • Champs Elysees
  • engineer


BACKOUCHE Isabelle, The trace of the river: the Seine and Paris (1750-1850), Paris, School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences, coll. “Civilizations and Societies” (no 101), 2000.

CAYEUX Jean de, with the coll. by BOULOT Catherine, Hubert Robert, Paris, Fayard, coll. "History of Art", 1989.

COURTIN Nicolas, Paris in the 18th century: between rococo fantasy and classical revival, Paris, Parigramme, 2013.

FAROULT Guillaume (dir.), Hubert Robert (1733-1808): a visionary painter, cat. exp. (Paris, 2016; Washington, 2016), Paris, Somogy / Musée du Louvre, 2016.

PERRONET Jean Rodolphe, Building bridges in the 18th century: the work of J. R. Perronet, presented by YVON Michel, Paris, Presses of the National School of Bridges and Roads, 1988.

VACANT Claude, Jean Rodolphe Perronet (1708-1794): "First engineer of the King" and director of the School of Bridges and Roads, Paris, Press of the National School of Bridges and Roads, 2006.

To cite this article

Stéphane BLOND, "The decentering of the Pont de Neuilly"

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