Today marks the third anniversary of this PISSARRO blog. To date, viewers from 104 countries on six continents have read about PISSARRO here. They have viewed different blogs a total of 11,003 times. And there’s still more to discover about PISSARRO.
Tags: Caracas, market, melbye, Monet, Pissarro, Plaza Mayor, St. Thomas, Venezuela
When Pissarro was 22 years old, he left the family home in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and went to Venezuela with his friend, Danish painter Fritz Melbye. The two artists opened a studio where they taught art and sold their paintings. This photo shows the artist dressed in a gaucho costume.
Pissarro painted the “Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas” (1852-54) when he was about 23 years old. Obviously, he was already an accomplished artist. Painted in a highly realistic style, it shows the large market in the center of Caracas. (This is just the first of many market scenes to be painted by Pissarro during his lifetime.) This painting demonstrates Pissarro’s understanding of perspective. Details of the cathedral tower are visible In the background. In the middle ground is a woman carrying a jug on her head. The focal point is the man in the red poncho on the donkey. The folds of his poncho and white pants are carefully modeled. His wide-brimmed hat casts a perfect shadow on his left shoulder.
Resting in the shade of a white canopy are two women, with their wares spread out beside them. Interestingly, the color of the canopy’s shadow is gray. Later in his Impressionist years, the artist would banish black from his palette and use blues and purples to paint shadows. The woman on the left is difficult to see in this reproduction of the painting, but there is a drawing Pissarro probably used as a preparatory work. It displays her beauty and Pissarro’s skill as a draughtsman at such an early age.
Just for good measure, here is a another painting made by the 24-year-old Pissarro. It was bought by his friend Melbye and was safe from the war’s destruction. During their stay in Venezuela, Melbye and Pissarro traveled into the mountains and stayed at a small village named Galipan, where Pissarro made drawings of the mountains, the tropical forests, and the people.
Even before he was an Impressionist, Pissarro was a talented, proficient artist selling paintings and teaching art. When we group Pissarro with the Impressionists, we tend to forget that he was ten years older than the others. When the 24-year-old Pissarro made these paintings and drawings, Monet was just 14, beginning to draw. No wonder Pissarro led the way to Impressionism and beyond.
People from all over the world visit artbookannex.com to read about Pissarro and his amazing paintings. On January 9, 13 viewers clicked on the blog and read 177 posts!
Since the Pissarro exhibition in Wuppertal, there have been a large number of viewers from Germany.
Yesterday, there were 12 viewers who read a total of 46 posts. Most of them were from Uzbekistan.
Pissarro would be so pleased that you are interested in his work. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions. Please feel free to write me anytime.
Thank you so much for your visits!
Ann Saul (firstname.lastname@example.org)
UPDATE – FEBRUARY 4
Today’s viewers are from the United States, Brazil, Mongolia, South Africa, and France.
Welcome to the Pissarro blog at artbookannex.com.
Tags: Abstract, Cubism, Dieppe, Eragny, Impressionism, Pablo Picasso, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pissarro, pointillism
Pissarro painted The Dieppe Railway in 1886, following the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition in which he showed his Pointillist works. You have to look closely to even see the train, just to left of the canvas center. The train itself is not important—it is simply there as a reference point in a composition of geometric shapes and color blocks. In many of his paintings, Pissarro used sketchy trees and figures to make what are essentially abstract compositions look more like familiar scenes.
Some 25 years later (around 1911), Pablo Picasso who created Cubism, talked about including familiar objects in his abstract paintings, calling them “attributes,” to characterize the subject matter. He said, “The attributes were the few points of reference designed to bring one back to visual reality, recognizable to anyone.”*
While the actual location of this painting is not important, I believe this scene was near the Éragny railroad station just across the highway from his home. This current photograph shows the railroad track, the contours of the fields, and the same blue hills in the distance.
We usually expect a painting to show something important or at least something pretty, but there is not much distinctive about this particular space. Rather than a typical subject, Pissarro chose these oddly-shaped color fields.
In the large foreground, he created a golden field with points of color, ranging from light yellow to gold, coral to red, and a bit of light green. To the right is an odd shape composed of green and dark blue spots, flecked with a little gold. It is obviously a shadow but we do not know its origin (possibly the old train station that is no longer there but appears in historic postcards). The green fields in the distance, made of light and dark green dots, are edged with golden fields of the same intensity as the foreground. Even the distant hills are blue dots of different shades mixed with ivory flecks. The cloudy sky absorbs the ivory points and mixes them with dots of yellow and coral. Above the clouds, light blue dots fill the top of the canvas with blue.
Pissarro must have made this painting as a showcase for Pointillism and fields of color. The composition and use of paint are far more important than the picture of the train. When we look at this painting today, we can say it is virtually abstract—Pissarro couldn’t do that. In 1886, the word abstract had not yet been used in relation to art.
*Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection (2013) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 139
In May 1870, two of Pissarro’s pictures were chosen to be exhibited with hundreds of paintings by other artists in the Paris Salon. Their titles, “Autumn” and “Landscape,” are pretty general, so art historians have not been able to definitively determine which of Pissarro’s paintings they were. (Critical Catalog, 2005) In fact, they may not have survived the ransacking of Pissarro’s home during the Franco-Prussian war later that year.
Those paintings must have been impressive, however, since they attracted the attention of highly-regarded art critics of the day. Comments by one of them, Theodore Duret writing for L’Electeur Libre, are particularly interesting.
Duret wrote, “For him (Pissarro), the landscape on the canvas must be a faithful and exact transposition of a natural scene, the portrait of some corner of the world that actually exists. […] But while we grant the theory according to which Pissarro evidently proceeds, we cannot help remarking that, in observing it too strictly, where nature itself is so unpicturesque that the artist has painted a landscape without making a picture.” (The italics and bold are mine.)
Pissarro was already known as a painter true to nature and Duret’s reference to “portrait of some corner of the world” is apt. However, the critic says that Pissarro observes this practice so carefully, depicting everyday scenes, that his paintings are “unpicturesque” or not pretty! Too bad we cannot see the exact painting he wrote about.
However, there are several paintings from that period in Pissarro’s work that illustrate Duret’s point. “The Forest” provides a good example. At first glance, it appears to be a horizontal rectangle of green, or several shades of green. Then we notice the sunlight on large tree trunks and cottages on the left. Only after looking closely, do we discover a bending woman in the left foreground. Is she picking up nuts from the trees? Almost by accident we discover people under a tree on the right. Are there two, or three, or four? There is no statue or important building, no famous person; nor does it depict a historic event or a mythical story. It would be hard to create a story about it.The scene is pleasant enough, but not memorable. Is this what Duret meant?
Apparently, this little corner of the world appealed to Pissarro for different reasons. He saw much more than thick leaves, dense tree trunks, and firm ground. In making the painting, he gives us no focal point to draw our attention. He crowds the trees together as if they are all pushing to the front. There is no sense of space or “breathing room” in the picture. Except for a tiny corner of blue, there is no sky.
Pissarro was not painting a grove of trees. He was arranging contrasts — color (yellows and greens) and paint ( thin and thick), brushstrokes (heavy and light) and patterns (dark and bright). He balanced it so carefully that we see the whole, not the parts.
Duret might not have called this landscape a picture, but it is an intriguing painting just the same. In more recent years, we have grown accustomed to works by Picasso, Klee, and Pollock that contain blocks of color, light and dark contrasts, and all-over design. Now we are able to understand what Pissarro was doing in 1870.
Abstract art had not been invented then, but Pissarro already had the eye of an abstract painter.
It was a great pleasure to see the exhibition PISSARRO: FATHER OF IMPRESSIONISM at the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal, Germany. This picture shows me with one of my favorite Pissarro painting, the one that is on the cover of my book PISSARRO’S PLACES.
The exhibition is a very large retrospective that thoroughly covers almost every part of Pissarro’s oeuvre with the exception of Pointillism, which is represented by one small painting. It included very early French paintings (none from Venezuela), a few from Pontoise and Louveciennes (some of Osny and Ennery I had never seen), Eragny and a good selection of Rouen, Dieppe, Le Havre, and Paris. I was especially delighted to see the early painting of Julie when she was a young girl from the Ashmolean, probably painted soon after Pissarro met her. He painted her portrait many times during their marriage. There were several flower still lifes and two self-portraits (1870 and 1903).
Some of the paintings are not ordinarily seen in the US. One of those is this elegant painting of a tree at Montfoucault, the Brittany home of Ludovic Piette where Pissarro and his family frequently visited. The obvious focal point is the big tree, but your eyes go to the golden ground created by rough brushstrokes of yellow, red, green, orange and coral. The heavy foliage on the big tree is nothing more than large blotches of dark green paint, reflected on the ground as a dark shadow. The odd sky is dark blue on the shadowed side of the tree and cloud filled on the other side. This isolation of this deserted field is tempered by tiny rooftops on a nearby hill.
Each group of Pissarros was paired with paintings by his contemporaries from the museum’s impressive holdings, including those of Corot, Courbet, Daubigny, Renoir, Monet, Sisley, Seurat, Daumier and many others. There were also paintings by Fritz Melbye, Pissarro’s friend in St. Thomas and Venezuela, and Ludovic Piette, his very close friend from Montfoucault.
There seemed to be twice as many works on paper (drawings, prints, etchings, watercolors) as paintings. Both the Musée Pissarro (Pontoise, France) and the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford, England) sent generous selections to show alongside the large collection in the museum. One especially interesting drawing shows a village behind a screen of trees, with the artist’s handwritten notes on colors to use in a future painting.
Seeing this comprehensive group of Pissarro’s paintings, it is easy to see that he was much more than an Iimpressionist. For more on the Wuppertal exhibition, please see my review in the New York Sun: http://www.nysun.com/arts/standing-tall-in-wuppertal/88979/
Tags: Cezanne, Degas, Dreyfus Affair, Emile Zola, J'accuse, Paris, Pissarro, Renoir, WUPPERTAL
The exhibition at Wuppertal, Germany, “Pissarro, Father of Impressionism,” is an extensive retrospective of Pissarro’s lifework, including a wide selection of paintings and works on paper from his earliest days as an artist. This painting, “La Place du Théâtre Français,” is one of several he painted during a long stay at the Hotel du Louvre from December 1898 to Spring 1899.It was about this time of year—the leaves were off the trees and people were bundled up in coats and hats.
Pissarro had the capacity to focus closely, and it served him well during this painting expedition. Paris was sharply divided over the Dreyfus Affair. Earlier that year, Émile Zola had published his famous letter “J’accuse,” which had incited public demonstrations. At night, anti-Semitic mobs were filling the streets, and as a Jew, Pissarro may have been in danger. Some of his colleagues and dear friends turned against him, including Renoir, Degas, and Cézanne. Through it all, he calmly painted the daytime scenes, portraying business as usual.
From his suite of rooms on the front of the Hotel Louvre, he had an excellent view straight down the Avenue de l’Opera to the fashionable new Opera Garnier. He did not usually paint famous sites or important buildings, and in the ten paintings he made of that street, the magnificent building is barely visible.
In this painting, he ignores the street and buildings to concentrate on the busy, traffic-filled intersection directly in front of the hotel. There is no horizon line, no sky, not even edges to the painting. The traffic literally runs off the canvas. Traffic is going in every direction with no regulations apparent. Pedestrians walk in the middle of the street among carriages, wagons full of produce and filled omnibuses. Pissarro gives order to the scene, using the largest omnibus to anchor the composition on the lower edge.
As he does sometimes, Pissarro uses the tallest tree to divide the canvas. On the right is a large pedestrian island and a small red building. Behind that and near the top of the canvas are white columns that indicate the presence of a large building. To the left of the tree is the helter-skelter of heavy traffic, regulated slightly by the small circle holding the tall street light and a larger circle at the top of the canvas with a fountain.
The whole scene looks like miniature figures on a tilted table, almost as if they are sliding into our lap. To emphasize the motion, Pissarro created a line on the street beginning at left corner and extending to the head of the brown horse pulling the omnibus. To the right, the street is lighter compared to the left. Is there a shadow on the street? There is no way to know because we can see neither the sky nor the buildings that might be blocking the sun.
If a contemporary artist made a painting like that today, we would call it an all-over abstract painting. It goes beyond the canvas edges on every side and it tells no story. This is another example of how far ahead of his time Pissarro was. The techniques he developed more than a hundred years ago now seem very ordinary to us, and we forget that he was such a radical and inventive artist.