Louis Welden Hawkins (1849-1910)
La tour Eiffel [The Eiffel Tower]
Oil on canvas
H. 55; W. 45 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Franck Raux
Built for the 1889 Universal Exhibition, the Eiffel Tower immediately became an object of fascination for artists. In 1888, Seurat produced a pointillist work of the then unfinished tower. In the following years, the Douanier Rousseau, Signac, Bonnard and Utrillo also painted images of it, each in their own style.
For his viewpoint, Hawkins set up his easel on the esplanade of the former Trocadero Palace, built for the 1878 Universal Exhibition. The foreground is taken up by a rear view of a bronze statue by Falguière symbolising Asia. This sculpture can still be seen today on the forecourt of the Musée d’Orsay, alongside the other allegories of continents that adorned the Trocadero Palace esplanade until its destruction in 1937. The Eiffel Tower occupies the right hand corner of the painting. Its feet are cropped, as are the upper levels. Blue sky and an urban landscape (from the embankments of the Seine to the buildings of the Ecole Militaire), form the background of this work. The unusual framing makes it almost photographic in style.
Hawkins, the son of an English father and an Austrian mother, studied painting in France. Having been associated with the Symbolists in the 1890s, he changed direction at the end of the century and, after 1900 turned to late Impressionism, a style that was very successful internationally at that point, and thus offered valuable commercial openings. Both the framing and the free use of colour – in particular for the statue, painted with broad yellow, orange and blue brush strokes – give this painting a pseudo-modern style which was popular in all the salons of Europe at the time.