By the vigor, the delicacy and the certainty of his drawings, Meryon recalls what is best in the work of the early etchers. We have rarely seen represented with more poetry the solemnity peculiar to a great capital. -Charles Baudelaire 1859
Baudelaire was reacting to “Eaux-fortes sur Paris,” a series of 22 etchings documenting Paris before it was transformed into a modern city by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann. Completed by the French printmaker Charles Meryon (1821-1868) between 1850 and 1854, the prints were rejected by the Salons of the time.
Meryon must have been grateful to receive a commission in the spring of 1856 from François Louis Alfred Pioche (1818-1872), a banker, investor and art collector, who traveled between his native Paris and his adopted home of San Francisco. Poiche asked Meryon to create a panoramic landscape of San Francisco, although the artist had never been there. For inspiration, he was given a five-daguerreotype panorama of the city (now in the Art Institute of Chicago), from which five large paper photographs were made for his use.
While much of the landscape was copied directly from the photographs, Meryon added a cartouche to the center foreground with allegorical figures of Abundance and Labor, as well as portrait medallions of Pioche and his partner Jules B. Bayerque. Meryon pulled the first proofs in September and finished some time that winter. Princeton’s copy is a rich, clean impression from the fourth of four states, measuring 185 x 950 mm.
Not long after finishing this panorama, the artist checked into the asylum in Charenton. Although he returned to Paris and his work several times, Meryon’s final years were spent in Charenton, where he died of self-starvation in 1868.