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Rue de Gisors - 1868 Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

Rue de Gisors – 1868
Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

Never before have I written two posts about the same painting. But this one from Vienna is more puzzling that it appears. Even in his earliest days as an artist, Pissarro was more interested in using paint on canvas than he was in creating a what most people thought was the perfect picture.  The previous post discussed the strange composition which would have been easy if only it did not include that odd blank space and sliver of a house on the left.

But that isn’t the only unusual thing—Pissarro seemed to be using the large spaces to demonstrate  that brushstrokes can differentiate areas even when colors are almost the same. The predominant color in this painting is the yellowish beige of the houses and walkways.  The clouds and hills are various shades of gray blue, and only the dark green grass in the lower left corner is markedly different.

The grass is composed of large horizontal brush strokes, seemingly with a wide brush. The tiny furrows made by the stiff bristles are very evident from the bottom of the canvas to the vanishing point at the distant blue hillside. There is no difference in intensity or color in the grass of the foreground and that at the vanishing point.

The walkway beside the road seems to have been painted with a smaller brush and more delicate strokes that form very shallow arches. In the foreground the path appears to be a bit lighter than at the horizon line, but the major clue to perspective is the narrowing of the path. 

The road cuts a diagonal swath across the canvas from the right corner to the horizon line, with a shallow walkway on the other side that ultimately disappears. The light on the roadway is directly opposite that on the walkway, appearing darker in the foreground and lighter toward the vanishing point. The brushstrokes on the road are also delicate but are different in shape from those of the path. They appear to be short wavy lines that are slightly diagonal.

The construction of the houses are suggested with pale blue gray blocks  on the pale yellow-beige walls. There is no attempt to paint realistic shutters. They are simply rough perpendicular strokes that are not always aligned. 

The cloudy sky gives Pissarro more opportunities for varied brush strokes. The clouds near the hilltop appear soft with circular strokes. The dark gray clouds at the top are also composed of circular strokes.  The very white clouds in the center seem more ferocious than the dark ones because they are composed of wide brushstrokes in a herringbone pattern.

It seems that Pissarro was using this painting almost like a “sampler” to show that the type of strokes can create important differences in various areas even when the colors are very similar. This canvas shows that he is as interested in the textures the paint creates as he is in recording a picture of a specific place.

The biggest puzzle of all, however, is the woman in the black dress at the left.  She is almost hidden in the shadows, and we would not notice her except for her white petticoat. Who is she? Why is she on the grass instead of the walkway? Why is she there at all? The painting would accomplish the same thing even if she were not there. It calls attention to this strange little group including the tiny little house, the row of three saplings and the woman. What do they mean? We will never know, but we do know that Pissarro often places elements in his paintings that cannot be explained.  It is part of the charm in looking closely at his paintings.


Rue de Gisors - 1868 Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

Rue de Gisors – 1868
Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127


Pissarro made several paintings on the Rue de Gisors in Pontoise, but this one is unlike any of the others.  He painted it during his first stay in Pontoise before the beginnings of Impressionism.

The paintings he made of this street after the Franco-Prussian war show a different part of the street, a high traffic area looking towards the center of town.  This view appears to be the other end the street, looking toward a faraway hill.  At this point, he was still using black in his paintings, as shown by the woman in the black dress on the left. The colors appear to be dark, but this may be simply the an accumulation of residue from more than a hundred years ago.

This painting is one of the few surviving paintings made by Pissarro that date before 1872, the end of the Franco-Prussian War.  During 1870-71, Pissarro fled with his family, first to Brittany and then to London, where he stayed until the war was over.  While he was gone, his home in Louveciennes was used by Prussian soldiers to house their horses and soldiers. They used his canvases to butcher animals and to cover mud in the garden. At that time, he was in his early 40s, and nearly all of his life’s work was destroyed.  Only about 30 paintings survive from those early days.

This painting provides a special insight into Pissarro’s art before Impressionism. I had a chance to see this painting recently in Vienna and here is a little bit of what I learned. His painting was already radical. The composition focuses on the wide cobblestone street with walkways on either side which appears to go downhill. The buildings on the right side of the street are typical and are very much like buildings on that street today. It is the left side of the composition that is so curious. Beside the road on the left is a tiny house partially hidden behind a row of slender trees. In photographs, it is difficult to see the roofline behind the trees, but in person, it is barely visible. To the left is an open space showing sky and then a tiny sliver of another building. If the little trees had been on the left edge of the canvas, the composition would have looked very ordinary. As it is, your attention is drawn to the empty space instead. Other people in the painting seem to be doing something or going somewhere, but the mysterious woman in the black dress is just standing there on the grass. We might not notice her except for the white ruffle on her dress.

There is much more in this painting that is radical for its time, and I will write more about it in another post.


The Louvre, Afternoon, Rainy Weather  1900 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC PDR 1346

The Louvre, Afternoon, Rainy Weather 1900
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC PDR 1346

“The Louvre, Afternoon, Rainy Weather” was one of the first group of paintings Camille Pissarro made after he and his family moved to their new apartment on the Île de la Cité in November, 1900.  Formerly, a part of the collection of The Corcoran Gallery of Art, it has just been hung in its new home at the National Gallery of Art, ( West Building, Gallery M-89) Washington, DC. (See it on their Facebook page:

Among their Pissarro paintings, the National Gallery has two others made in Paris: “Boulevard des Italiens” (1897) and “Place du Carrousel, Paris” (1900), a view of the Louvre in the spring from his former apartment on Rue Rivoli. (See those on the website of the National Gallery of Art by searching for Camille Pissarro works.)

This paintings is obviously a view from the apartment’s front window because it includes a corner of the Place du Pont-Neuf where the statue of Henri IV is located. It appears that a rain storm has just passed, leaving the surface of the Place wet and shiny. Pissarro painted this same view many more times before his death in 1903, depicting it in every possible weather situation and with varying boat traffic in the river.

The composition of this painting is determined by the motif. The corner of the Place on the lower left side gives the painting a decidedly asymmetrical feel, suggesting an imaginary diagonal line pointing towards tthe Louvre in the middle right side. The two boats shown steaming toward the bridge suggest another imaginary diagonal from right lower corner to middle left side, forming an X across the painting. The bridge cuts across the diagonals virtually through the middle of the canvas, its severity softened by the graceful arches.  On the left, the curved branches of the  trees echo the arches.

The hand of the master is most evident in the surface of the Place and the water, each of them composed of countless brushstrokes. The shiny orange surface of the Place actually includes shades of coral, yellow, lavender, pink, white, and brick red. The complimentary dark blue of the woman’s dress intensifies the orangey tones. The choppy waters of the Seine are depicted in shades of gray, ranging from nearly white to dark slate. Tiny streaks of deep blue are complemented with pale dashes of dark orange.

This is one of Pissarro’s paintings that really must be seen in person—but then, wouldn’t we prefer to study all of them in person?


Apples and Pears in a Circular Basket, 1872 Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ  PDR 269

Apples and Pears in a Circular Basket, 1872
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ PDR 269

This gorgeous painting is one of those featured in the exhibition, “Discovering the Impressionists,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Durand-Ruel, the art dealer bought it from Pissarro the same year it was painted.  This was just one year after Pissarro and Durand-Ruel both returned to France from London where they went to escape the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.

Pissarro must have painted two still lives at about the same time because they both feature the pink striped wallpaper and the table with a white cloth.  The other one, a study of apples and glazed earthenware, appears to be very conventional and realistic in that the plate, vase and wine glass seem to be sitting very solidly on the table with normal shadows.  However, this one is almost radical in its composition.

The basket is tilted forward so much that it seems to be levitating.  The back rim is much higher than it would be if the basket were sitting flat on the table.  The shadow to the left of the basket reinforces the illusion, since in that shadowed space, we can almost see under the basket. The deep creases in the tablecloth lead our eyes to the basket, accenting its odd placement.

This is far from a routine still life, it is totally radical.  And this is what Pissarro was doing a full two years before the First Impressionist Exhibition.

See it in the Durand-Ruel exhibition at PMA until September 13.


The Pont-Neuf, Wet Weather (First Series) 1901 llen Memorial Art Museum Oberlin College, Ohio  1348

The Pont-Neuf, Wet Weather (First Series)
llen Memorial Art Museum Oberlin College, Ohio 1348

In November 1900 Pissarro moved his family back to Paris for the winter, renting an apartment on the Île de la Cité, the island in the middle of the Seine.  From here, he had sweeping views of both sides of the river. Straight in front of him was a small plaza with a statue of Henri IV, king of France in the 16th century who issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598, establishing freedom of religion.

By the end of February 1901, Pissarro wrote his son Lucien that he had “practically finished my winter series” and described 20 paintings he had completed. “As you can see, I haven’t wasted my time altogether, thanks to my regular working hours.”  (2005, Pissarro, Durand-Ruel).

From his window, Pissarro looked across the long section of Pont Neuf, the two-part bridge that crosses the island. Throngs of pedestrians are crossing the bridge, many of them with raised umbrellas. Horse and buggy traffic maneuvers around the large omnibus, pulled by three horses. At the end of the bridge, the buildings with red flags signal the large Samaritaine department store.

This small painting (approximately 18 x 15 inches) challenges us to appreciate the subtle quality of Pissarro’s painting. If we take a quick look and move on to another painting, we miss its brilliance. Most of Pissarro’s works offer brighter colors with more contrast.  This one appears to be an exquisite study in tones of gray.

The sky looks completely gray, until we look closely and see blue behind the gray and white puffs of clouds. Except for its white railings, the bridge and water look completely gray. But  the pilings supporting the bridge get their form from a warm color that is almost a dusty creme. What little light there is shines on the water in strokes of white, but in between are strokes of fern green, and farther back light pink. We see more color on the bridge where the reddish-brown horses and buggies create a sense of movement. The brightest spot on the painting is one of the store fronts which is rose-colored. The buildings across the bridge which seem to be a drab gray are actually a light cream color. Their gray windows and slate blue roofs give them a damp, cold appearance.

Pissarro made several other paintings of this same view, and all are more colorful than this one. So why did Pissarro make a painting that at first glance appears to be drab and gray? We know that he worked on many paintings at the same time and changed from one to the other as the weather changed. But perhaps, he was using the shapes and forms of this scene to experiment with colors and brushstrokes. On the surface of the bridge, we see patches of slate blue beside dabs of light rose.  On the gray bridge pilings, the colors are actually slate blue and a light creme. On the fourth support is a small dab of light rose which almost turns the slate blue into lavendar. The buildings in the background look like toy blocks except for the slate dabs which our eyes translate as windows.

On a wall with other Impressionist paintings full of color and movement, we might be tempted to dismiss this one as less interesting. But, as with most of Pissarro’s paintings, a closer look makes all the difference and we realize that this painting is a small treasure that deserves our attention.

Current photo standing on the Pont Neuf looking toward the Samaritaine Building.

Current photo standing on the Pont Neuf looking toward the Samaritaine Building.


Landscape at Pontoise, c. 1879 Private collection PDR600

Landscape at Pontoise, c. 1879
Private collection PDR 600

Several wonderful Pissarro paintings are available in the Spring sales of Impressionist paintings in New York City this year. This one, “Landscape at Pontoise,” will be offered in the Day Sale on May 15, 2015 at Christie’s. It will be especially exciting to see it in person since the Pissarro catalogue raisonné (2005) contains only a black-and-white photograph. The provenance provided by Christie’s does not list any exhibitions, so it probably has not been on view for a long time.

It is a vertical painting, generally considered an unusual choice for a landscape. At that time, most artists used horizontal canvases that would give them plenty of room on each side of their focal point. This painting is also tiny, only 16 1/8 x 13 inches, a little treasure.

Pissarro uses more than half the canvas for a thick screen of tall poplar trees which prevents us from seeing the village of Pontoise in the distance. All we get is a narrow space through which we see the steeple of the church of Saint-Maclou, now a cathedral, and a couple of red roofs. Even in this close-up, the church steeple is indistinct and though our eyes are drawn to it, it is obviously not a the most important element (focal point) in the painting.

steeple detail

In the foreground, we see a woman bending over and a man in the distance. As we know, many of Pissarro’s paintings have no particular focal point–no large or important element that dominates the view. In this one, both the woman and man are mere sketches rendered in a few brushstrokes and hardly large enough to be important.

woman detail

Though the trees dominate the painting, they have no real importance–all they do is prevent us from seeing what is beyond. Pissarro developed this device about ten years earlier in his 1869 painting, “The Village Screened by Trees.” According to the catalogue raisonné, that was the first time that he used this screening device.

The Village Screened by Trees  c. 1869 Private collection PDR 134

The Village Screened by Trees c. 1869
Private collection PDR 134

We see trees used in similar ways in the paintings of Corot, with whom Pissarro had painted as a young man. But Corot’s paintings always had a focal point, and his trees were never as thick and as dominant as those in Pissarro’s screens.  Pissarro continued to use this compositional device throughout his career. Because this painting has no real focal point, we are forced to look at the painting literally as paint on canvas and enjoy the energy and movement of Pissarro’s brushstrokes.

The Lot Notes provided by Christie’s for this painting say, “Paysage à Pontoise was painted during a period when Pissarro was increasingly using small, stabbing brushstrokes of color to render his images, prefiguring Neo-Impressionism. … Pissarro has paid particular attention to enriching the painted surface with a stippling effect on the trees and the overgrown field.”

trees detail

Pissarro is painting in a way that was still very new for that time. He made this painting in 1879, the year of the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition. The art establishment of that time continued to favor paintings in which brushstrokes were invisible and the surface of the painting was smooth.  Pissarro is, once again, defying the accepted practice. Seen up close, it looks like he was applying the paint with wild abandonment–stabs of blue and white in the sky and green and dark green for the trees. A faint touch of light red among the green gives it even more brilliance.

This view of Pontoise from the nearby village of Ennery was lovely on a sunny day, but Pissarro was not interested in giving us a photographic reproduction. If all we see is the location, then we have missed the point. Pissarro used this view to provide an engaging design for putting paint on canvas.


Factor on the Banks of the Oise 1873 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown (MA) PDR 300

Factory on the Banks of the Oise 1873
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown (MA) PDR 300

This painting is one of Pissarro’s most famous and well-loved paintings. Fortunately, it lives at the wonderful Clark Art Institute and can be seen by the public. If you go to Paris, take the train to Pontoise and visit the Musée Pissarro. The following blog is taken from my book PISSARRO’S PLACES (

One warm spring day, Pissarro took his easel to the banks of the Oise river and made a painting that is archetypical of the Impressionist style: the lavish portrayal of sunlight, the consciousness of the changing weather as gray clouds fill the intense blue sky, the presence of modernity in the new factories lining the banks of the Oise River; and the immediacy of the scene that bespeaks en plein air painting.

The painting itself has a classic composition divided almost equally between the sky and the earth, with the river dwindling away on the right side. The water, still as a mirror, reflects the smokestacks and buildings on the other side and connects them with the freshness of the spring flowers in the right foreground. The factory, a distillery, had just been completed in 1872.

One of the old factories still standing on the banks of the Oise.

One of the old factories still standing on the banks of the Oise.




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