"What particularly interests me," wrote Pissarro in February 1896 on his second visit to Rouen, "is the motif of the iron bridge in wet weather with all the vehicles, pedestrians, workers on the embankments, boats, smoke, haze in the distance; it's so spirited, so alive." On a third visit, in September that year, he told his son Lucien, "I have a motif to do... from my window, the new Saint-Sever district directly opposite with the hideous Gare d'Orléans, all shiny and new, and any number of chimneys large and small spouting plumes of smoke. In the fore-ground, boats and water; to the left of the station, the working-class district that runs along the embankment to the iron bridge, the Pont Boieldieu....It's beautiful, Venice-like.... It's art, art filtered through my own perceptions"
This painting, completed in the autumn of 1896, was the result of the artist's third trip. Seen from Pissarro's room in the Hôtel d'Angleterre, where Claude Monet had stayed when he began his series of views of Rouen Cathedral, the industrial-commercial district of Rouen spreads out under a bright sky. Unlike Monet, Pissarro concentrated not on the well-known, traditional aspects of the town but on Its new, grittier core. This focus reflected his avowed socialism and documented Rouen's status as central Normandy's most important port and one of its most industrialized cities.
The Great Bridge, Rouen, with its smoking factories, busy docks, and painterly style, is unconditionally modern. In fact, it shows a combination of styles attesting to the changes that took place in Pissarro's work as it evolved. A founding father of Impressionism in the 1860s and 1870s (he was the oldest of the Impressionists), Pissarro abandoned the movement in the mid-1880s for the more "scientific" principles of Georges Seurat. By 1890, however, he had decided Seurat's pointillism did not suit his temperament, and he returned to his earlier techniques.