Although his closest artist friends were Monet and Renoir, the key advocates for loose brushwork and bright color, Caillebotte preferred the sort of conventional draftsmanship and unaffected urban subjects dear to their fellow Impressionist Degas. Like Degas, he limited himself to strictly subdued visual means, and On the Pont de l’Europe is virtually monochromatic, the pervasive blue tones corresponding in visual terms to the chilling cold in which the figures stand. The man on the left with his collar turned up and the principal figure, their backs turned toward each other, are dressed in identical fashion. The implication, perhaps, is that modern urban society appears no less regularized than modern engineering, with its mass-produced prefabricated parapets, girders, and rivets. For his composition, Caillebotte has adopted the geometric structure of the bridge, one pier of which bisects his picture vertically into two arched bays, these each subdivided by diagonal cross-bracing struts. The humanity of the figures resides in their freedom to escape the rigid symmetry.
The Pont de l’Europe overlooks the Saint-Lazare train station, which was famously portrayed by Monet in a dozen paintings made early in 1877 and included at the third Impressionist exhibition that year. It is at least possible that Caillebotte (who soon purchased three of Monet’s variations on the station theme) refrained from showing his masterful On the Pont de l’Europe at the same exhibition in order not to compete. As well as being a painter himseLf, Caillebotte was the most important early patron of the Impressionists. They invited him to be in their second group exhibition in 1876, and later that year he wrote a will promising his controversial collection of works by the artists he championed to the French state. Today these works form the nucleus of the collection at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.