Meryon, Charles. LE PONT AU CHANGE. S.40(v), DW.34. Etching with drypoint, 1854. Fifth State of twelve, with the inscriptions in cursive, "C. Meryon del. sculp. mdcccliiii," lower left, and "Imp. R. Neuve St. Etienne du Mont. 26," lower right. 6 1/8 x 13 3/16 inches; 155 x 335 mm. On paper watermarked "D&C Blauw."
Le Pont au Change, or Exchange Bridge is one of the plates from Meryon's series "Eaux-Fortes sur Paris. The print went through twelve states, of which this is the fifth. In the early states (1-6) Meryon's pictured a balloon called "L'esperanza" (Hope) floating over the bridge. In states seven through ten, the balloon is replaced by a large flock of menacing birds. In the final two states, the birds are removed and several small balloons float over the bridge.
"Meryon did 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. 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." (From the Online Archive of California)