While his figure paintings are better known, Renoir's landscapes resonate with a vigor and freshness of vision central to the development of impressionism, most apparent here in his transcription of the effects of sunlight. Midday sun suffuses the panorama, its intensity heightening the artist's palette and suppressing incidental detail to clarify the crowded scene.
Edmond Renoir, the artist's younger brother and a novice journalist in 1872, later recounted the inception of this painting in an interview. He told how Renoir secured an owner's permission to occupy an upper floor of a café for one day to depict the view of the famous bridge. Edmond periodically delayed passersby long enough for the artist to record their appearance. Renoir even noted Edmond's presence, walking stick in hand and straw boater on his head, in two locations.
If, as Edmond indicated, Pont Neuf, Paris was painted during a single day, it was preceded by careful preparations, possibly including preliminary delineation of the permanent architectural features. The painting seems more richly nuanced and the subject laden with broader meaning than Edmond's anecdote would suggest. Painted in the wake of the Franco–Prussian War and ensuing civil strife that had devastated France in 1870 and 1871, Renoir's 1872 image shows a representative sampling of French citizenry crossing the oldest bridge in Paris, the intact heart of the recovering country.