Archive Page 2

RADICAL PAINTING CLOTHED IN SIMPLICITY

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

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

This stunning painting, The Village Screened by Trees, (1869) seems so simple, yet it is an enigma. There is a village bathed in the crisp clear sunlight of autumn. We long to hurry through the trees to see it more clearly. But Pissarro holds us back and forces us to take a more complicated view. A thick stand of tall trees creates a screen that blocks our sight line and demands our attention. This is the first of Pissarro’s paintings to use this unique device in composition.

Some of Pissarro’s earlier paintings were similar to those of Corot in that they used rows or groups of trees to frame the view. This painting, however, does the opposite—the trees obstruct the view, forcing our eyes to wander in an out of the spindly tree trunks to piece together our view of the village. Years later, Pissarro took this device to the extreme in his painting La Côte des Bœufs, Pontoise (1877) with a screen of trees that covers the entire canvas.

We could ask why Pissarro did this, but there is no answer. What we do know is that most Impressionist paintings have a clear focal point, and the picture’s elements are arranged so that the motif is easily understood. This composition of this picture does the opposite. In 1869, five years before the First Impressionist Exhibition, Pissarro’s concept of forcing the viewer to look through a screen was totally radical.

This painting presents other puzzles as well. Most landscapes are horizontal in shape, but this one is vertical, which easily accommodates the tall trees. While the actual date of the painting is unknown, it has been placed at 1869, the year Pissarro moved to Louveciennes. Scholars say that the actual village is unknown since its particular topography does not appear to match Pissarro’s other views of either Louveciennes or Pontoise.

However, Pissarro points the way through the screen. Directly in front of us is a walkway leading to the village and a smaller path branching off to the right. Together, they form a strong V that anchors the composition. Just to be sure we don’t miss it, Pissarro places a small figure of a woman in the angle. He repeats this angle in the limbs of the tree just above her head and again in the background with the two sections of wall leading into the picture from each side.

While some might think this painting somewhat bland compared with other works of its time, it is, in fact, highly sophisticated and experimental. Perhaps if so many of Pissarro’s paintings of this period had not been lost in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-18871), he would be correctly recognized as the artist who was far ahead of his time. 

POINTILLISM BY PISSARRO

Peasant Women Planting Poles into the Ground 1891    PDR 922 Private collection, London; on loan to Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, UK

Peasant Women Planting Poles into the Ground
                                                                                              1891 PDR 922
                                              Private collection, London; on loan to Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, UK

 

This painting, “Peasant Women Planting Poles into the Ground,” (1891) was made during those few years that Pissarro used the pointillist technique. Right now, it can be seen as part of an exhibition on Neo-Impressionists at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.  Its last appearance in the US was in 1995 in New York at an exhibition curated by Joachim Pissarro, the artist’s great-grandson.

Pissarro was intrigued with pointillism because it used scientific methods to create art. As you know, this technique is created by putting dabs or spots of pure color side-by-side to create light or shadow.  When you look at the painting, your eyes automatically mix the dots. This is the opposite of mixing colors on the palette. You can see the same effect in digital photographs.  If you zoom in close enough, you can actually see the little squares of different colors that make up the images in the photo.

The Impressionists had perfected the practice of painting en plein air, often completing a picture in a single day. However, pointillism with its myriad details required advance planning.  To make this painting, Pissarro did several drawings to finalize the composition. In fact, he went back to a previous fan-shaped gouache from the previous year (1890) for the motif.

The fan shows women putting poles in the ground to support the young pea plants. The composition is spacious, showing surrounding fields on each side and there is room between each of the women. In contrast, the composition of this painting is much more dramatic. Pissarro cropped away all the surrounding fields and moved the women closer together. He also changed the positions of the women to emphasize the motion of their bodies. You can feel the rhythmic pounding of their actions.

His skill in the pointillism technique is evident as you examine the individual brushstrokes of each part of the painting. Look at the skirts of the women. The orange skirt on the left gets its shade from a combination of orange, dark blue, and yellow or white dots.  The dark red dress on the right includes deep blue or purple dots along with red and yellow dots. The blue skirt gets its color from dots of purple and white. The use of different colors in tiny brushstrokes gives the colors an intensity and brightness that they do not have when mixed on the palette.

After a few years Pissarro grew tired of the pointillist technique. It took a lot longer to make a picture, and his output during those few years is much less than was normal for him. He abandoned the full technique and went back to his more spontaneous way of creating paintings, but he kept elements of pointillism in his paintings for the rest of his life.

PISSARRO — ALWAYS MOVING FORWARD

View of the Village of Éragny 1885   PDR 790 Birminghaam (AL) Museum of Art

View of the Village of Éragny, 1885,  PDR 790,  Birminghaam (AL) Museum of Art

This wonderful view of the village of Éragny is in the collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama.  Recently, I had an opportunity to see the painting in person and study it closely. You would be deceived if you think this is simply a lovely landscape. Like so many of Pissarro’s paintings, there is a lot more to it than that.

Camille Pissarro and his family had just moved to Éragny in April of 1884. Delighted with new topographical subjects, he painted through the snowy winter. When he made this panoramic landscape in the early spring of 1885, he seemed to be taking the measurements of this new location. The current photo of Éragny (below) shows that it has changed little since he lived there.

Rue Camille Pissarro Éragny sur Epte

Rue Camille Pissarro
Éragny sur Epte

To get the view in the painting, Pissarro crossed the road (now Rue Camille Pissarro) in front of his house and walked beyond the houses on the other side to look back at the village. All the local landmarks are visible. In the center of the painting, the steeple of the church at Éragny pierces the sky. The current photograph below shows that the steeple is quite high, especially for a church that small (the two sections in front of the steeple are recent additions). It appears that Pissarro gave the steeple in his painting some added height, perhaps to take it above the row of trees in the background and make it easier for us to see. To the left are the towers of the large manor house which dates from the sixteenth century and was built for the lord of Éragny (see the current photograph below).  

         Church at Éragny  Eragny chateau

This painting is one of those by Pissarro that can be viewed at many levels. The very casual observer might barely slow down, labeling it as a pleasant picture of a peaceful village. Others might do as we just did, examine the picture for landmarks and try to feel a sense of the village and the bare fields pictured there.

But there is so much more to see. Pissarro saw the “skeleton” of the view and responded with what look like broad swaths of color in the foreground. Near the bottom, a darker area, then a lighter green strip, and a reddish section, which could have been newly-plowed ground preparing for spring planting. It leads our eyes on the right to the small wooden fence which stretches across the width of the canvas. The regularity of the horizontal lines is then interrupted by the jumble of houses lining both sides of the main street. Except for Bazincourt in the distant middle ground, there are fields leading to the horizon lined with tree tops.

What Pissarro does within these designated spaces is the most interesting of all and can easily be seen in the dark area at the bottom. He achieves the color and texture by placing small patches of color side by side, varying the mix to make it darker or lighter.

This looks like pointillism, and in fact Pissarro had come to his own interpretation of pointillism before ever meeting Georges Seurat.  For years, he had been interested in the division of color and had been reading the scientific writings of Michel Eugène Chevruel and Ogden Rood, an American scientist. When he met Seurat a few months after making this painting, he was excited to find someone else who shared his interest in color. 

This is just another example of how Pissarro was always ahead of his time, pushing forward, investigating, experimenting, innovating. In fact, if you mentally eliminate the village from this painting, it would almost look abstract.

AMAZING HOW MANY PEOPLE LOVE PISSARRO

Camille Pissarro in his studio

Camille Pissarro in his studio

 

Every few days I check to see how many people are reading the blog.  Imagine my surprise today when I saw that 74 people clicked on this site.  Of those, 69 were from Germany.  Whether you are one person or a large group of Pissarro lovers who all decided to read the blog the same day, many thanks for your interest.

And thanks to all of those who follow this blog on Pissarro.  It reaches people in more than 70 nations and on six continents.  Wonder what Pissarro would have thought about that?

 

Ann Saul

annsaul@pissarrosplaces.com

COOL SHADE ON A SUMMER DAY- PISSARRO’S ERAGNY AT THE ORSAY

Le Lavoir de Bazincourt The Wash-House at Bazincourt 1900    PDR1323 Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Le Lavoir de Bazincourt
The Wash-House at Bazincourt
1900 PDR1323
Musée d’Orsay, Paris

 

The Musée d’Orsay recently opened a mini-exhibition of Camille Pissarro landscapes and drawings in Chamber 69 on the second floor just above the sculptures.

The room includes four oil paintings and six small gauches, watercolors and drawings.  Three of the paintings are seldom seen in Pissarro exhibitions. These works combined with the nearly 20 paintings hanging in the Impressionist gallery provide a wealth of Pissarro works on view.

Most outstanding of the paintings is a large masterwork depicting the Lavoir of Bazincourt. Bazincourt, a small village across the Epte River from Eragny, is seen in many of Pissarro’s later paintings. This painting is breathtakingly beautiful in person. Photographs are a very poor reflection of the painting’s luminosity.

Pissarro made this painting in 1900 during a midsummer day. The trees are full of leaves, a rich bright green. The lavoir is almost in the center of the painting, and in the foreground is the clear water of the little river. The deep green shadows of the trees draw you into the painting, and you almost feel the cool breeze creating the ripples in the water. The influence of pointillism is clear in this painting with Pissarro’s many small brushstrokes, mere touches of color to the canvas.

14 eragny-epte postcard

This old postcard shows a close-up view of a different lavoir on the Eragny side of the Epte River. In the 19th century, women washed their laundry in the small river, and these sheds (lavoirs) provided some shelter for this task. Many lavoirs have been preserved throughout Normandy, including one on the Epte River at Giverny.

I cannot resist sharing my favorite photo of the Epte River, actually taken from a newer bridge Eragny, which shows how beautiful this part of the river is. The water is still as clear and cool (probably clearer since no one does laundry in it anymore). This is not the same view as Pissarro’s painting, but it portrays the same feeling.

13 Epte River

If you find yourself in Paris, be sure to see all the Pissarro paintings in the Impressionist galleries at the Orsay and search out the small Pissarro exhibition in the PostImpressionist section.

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HELLO READERS

Special thanks to the person from Italy who read ten or more posts to this blog the other day. It is so interesting to see that Pissarro’s fans are all over the world. If you would like to respond to this blog, please feel free to email me. Emails will be kept confidential.

annsaul@pissarrosplaces.com

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PISSARRO’S PLACES

PISSARRO’S PLACES, the book about the locations where Pissarro made his greatest paintings is still available on amazon.com and at the book’s website: www.pissarrosplaces.com.  Those who visit the website can receive a special reader’s discount.

PISSARRO AT THE MUSEE D’ORSAY IN PARIS–OF COURSE!

Bac à la Varenne-Saint-Hilaire 1864 Musee d'Orsay

Bac à la Varenne-Saint-Hilaire
1864
Musee d’Orsay

 

Today I was at the Orsay, and I counted 19 paintings by Camille Pissarro on view.  This is more than I remember at any other time. The Orsay has approximately 60 paintings by Pissarro, yet they generally have shown the same ones, usually less than 10. All of those were on display today, but there were many others which usually are not shown. 

The one shown above, Barge at La Vareen Saint-Hillaire, is unfamiliar to me and I suspect to most other Pissarro fans. It is a very early painting, 1864. made ten years before the first Impressionist Exhibition.  Already you can see that Pissarro was rebelling against the academic structure of the Salon. 

This painting is tiny by any measure, only 16.1 x 10.6 inches.  It would have never been able to complete with large Salon paintings and clearly was not meant to.  In fact, it was probably painting en plain air, on the actual site.  The paint is applied in thick brushstrokes, which are clearly visible—another push against academia which favored smooth finishes with invisible brushstrokes. The motif is a landscape, which depicts a very ordinary scene with people at their daily activities.  This also countered the Salon’s preference for paintings depicting history, myths, or important events.

The painting shows a barge crossing the Marne river, carrying a horse and carriage.  The river is obviously very still because we can see the reflections of the barge and its passengers in the water.  It may be the quiet before the storm given the dark clouds overhead. At the left is another smaller boat with its passengers either ready to depart or just landing.  On the opposite bank, we see the hill rising from the river with a town at its crest.

La Vareen Saint-Hillaire, southeast of Paris, is an old town on the Marne river. An abbey was established there in 639 AD, and in the 16th century, a castle was built. The ancient abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution. This painting was made in 1864, six years before the Franco-Prussian War which was particularly harsh on this little village.

This painting shows that even before the Impressionist movement, Pissarro was in the vanguard of opposition to the strictures of the Salon. He led the way toward new ways of seeing color and motifs and new painting techniques.

You can view the painting on the Orsay’s website at this website; however, their digital photo does not allow you to enlarge the photo very much for close examination. 

http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/index-of-works/resultat-collection.html?no_cache=1&zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1%5Bzoom%5D=0&tx_damzoom_pi1%5BxmlId%5D=000398&tx_damzoom_pi1%5Bback%5D=en%2Fcollections%2Findex-of-works%2Fresultat-collection.html%3Fno_cache%3D1%26zsz%3D9

A young artist studying Pissarro

A young artist studying Pissarro

Pissarro would love this little girl who was diligently copying one of his paintings.  He taught his own children to draw at an early age and most of them became artists whose paintings are in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay (though they are rarely if ever seen). To her credit, she chose an especially hard painting to reproduce. Since this was midway in her copy book, she probably has already worked on many other paintings.  (I wasn’t the only one attracted by her concentration. Without her knowledge, a circle of admiring adults were watching, taking pictures, but being careful not to interrupt her.)

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HELLO TO READERS

A few weeks ago, one European reader came on this blog and read 69 postings in one day!  Since I have no way to know who you are, I just want to say THANK YOU for your interest in Pissarro and for visiting this blog.  Many readers log on the blog and read several posts, and others perhaps come more often to check out what is new.

When I last checked the statistics, there were readers in more than 70 countries and on six continents. (I guess Antarctica does not have any Pissarro fans.) To all of you, sincere thanks for your interest in Pissarro and for reading this blog.

Some readers have told me that they had difficulty posting comments to the blog. The intricacies of this website are beyond me, but I would definitely like to hear from you. Here is an email address by which you can reach me directly. 

annsaul@pissarrosplaces.com

I would love to hear your comments.  If you would like me to post your comments, please let me know.  Otherwise, i will keep your remarks private.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Ann Saul

Author of PISSARRO’S PLACES

Blog:  artbookannex.com

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PISSARRO’S PLACES

The book is available at www.pissarrosplaces.com. There is a special discount available for those who visit the website.  It is also available on Amazon.

AN OBVIOUS FOCAL POINT

 

Photo by Émile Zola of Saint Stephen's Church, Dulwich 18988-99

Saint Stephen’s Church, Dulwich, 1870  PDR 181

When Camille Pissarro, Julie and their two children escaped from the Franco-Prussian war, they took shelter in London for several months, December 1870 through June 1871. They finally settled in at Upper Norwood (a town in South London), and Pissarro began painting the streets and fields around his neighborhood. 

Saint Stephen’s Church, Dulwich (PDR 181) was painted during that visit to London. Although Pissarro signed and dated the picture “70” (1870), it must have been painted in the springtime of 1871. He did not arrive in London until December 1870, and he made other paintings showing a snowy winter, not the light green foliage of springtime in this picture.

Pissarro set his easel on the side of College Road with the Sydenham Hill train station behind him. He made another painting from that same spot (PDR 190, undated), but for that one he turned to his right, looking across a field and distant hills.  The foliage in that picture is also green and fresh like this one.

Saint Stephen’s Church was a new building when Pissarro painted it. Built in 1867-68, it is a neo-gothic church with a free-standing tower topped by a spire covered in slate. That neighborhood had developed rapidly after the famous Crystal Palace (from the Great Exhibition of 1851) was moved to the area in 1834. (It was there until it burned to the ground in 1936.) The church and College Road still look very much the same as they did then.

This painting is almost unique in Pissarro’s oeuvre because it has one indisputable focal point, an element that dominates the painting, and is placed exactly in the center of the canvas.  Even so, it is not typical because the focal point is not in the foreground.  It is of course, the tall church tower with its slate-covered steeple, thin and sharp as a needle, which almost pierces the top of the canvas.  It is the one element we cannot ignore and our eyes cannot leave it.  Just in case we don’t get the point (pun intended), Pissarro places a large buggy on the road just beneath it.  Then he positions a man and woman walking toward it.  The trees frame it on either side and the white clouds provide a backdrop. Although the road does curve, Pissarro gives it a sharp angle which leads our eyes to the base of the tower.

Current photos suggest that Pissarro may have exaggerated the height of the tower just a bit, and the spire might be a little slimmer than in real life. The painting also conceals another landmark which we cannot recognize (perhaps a little of Pissarro’s keen sense of humor showing through).  Just to the left of the tower is some sort of grey structure with no identifiable marks.  Local historians who know every inch of their neighborhood’s history have identified that structure as none other than the famous Crystal Palace.

Another famous person also visited that area for a few months in 1898-99. Émile Zola, who had been sentenced to prison in France for writing his famous letter “J’accuse,” escaped to London instead.  He and Pissarro had been friends since they were both young men in Paris, and no doubt he knew the paintings Pissarro had made nearly 30 years earlier in Norwood. Zola, who was an amateur photographer, made a photograph of the exact spot where Pissarro had painted Saint Stephen’s Church.  The tower of Crystal Palace in the background is easily identifiable in his photograph.

Émile Zola's photograph of Saint Stephen's Church

Émile Zola’s photograph of Saint Stephen’s Church

Aside from the focal point, it is important to look at the light-colored palette, the fresh greens, the grey blue of the sky and the golden sunlight spilling across the road. It is a quintessential Impressionist painting and lovely beyond words. It’s no wonder St. Stephen’s Church uses it as their symbol on their website and other materials.  The painting is in a private collection.

For additional information on St. Stephen’s Church, the following websites are helpful.

http://www.raphael-samuel.org.uk/history-trails/trail-pissarro-south-london

http://www.ststephensdulwich.org/history-of-st-stephens/pissaro-at-st-stephens/

http://www.norwoodsociety.co.uk/articles/74-pissarro-and-norwood.html

PISSARRO’S PLACES

The gorgeous painting featured above is not included in PISSARRO’S PLACES.  One of the criteria for that book is that all paintings be in museums or public places that are easily accessible to everyone.

PISSARRO’S PLACES is still available at Amazon.com, but you can receive a friend’s discount at the book’s website: http://www.pissarrosplaces.com

 



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