Posts Tagged 'Impressionism'


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.


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.




The Dieppe Railway 1886 PDR 828 Philadelphia Museum of Art Philadelphia, PA

The Dieppe Railway
1886 PDR 828
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia, PA

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.

Eragny train7

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


A Creek with Palm Trees 1856  PDR 16 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

A Creek with Palm Trees
1856 PDR 16
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

This wonderful painting by Pissarro lives in Washington, DC., and I live just a train ride away in Philadelphia.  Yet I am going to see it for the first time in Germany at the exhibition, “Pissarro, Father of Impressionism,” at the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal. It is rarely on view at NGA because they generally show a similar painting, “Two Women Chatting by the Sea,” (PDR 23) which is more familiar. Both were painted by Pissarro shortly after he left St. Thomas to live in France for the rest of his life to be an artist.

The Critical Catalogue (2005) tells us why Pissarro was still painting pictures of St. Thomas. His son, Ludovic-Rodo wrote that one of Pissarro’s friends was trying to sell them in the Lille area. At that time, pictures of exotic places were very popular in Europe.

1856 was almost 20 years before the First Impressionist  Exhibition, yet this painting has distinct characteristics of Impressionism. No wonder they called Pissarro the Father of Impressionism.  It is all about the light and the atmosphere.

Can’t wait to see this along with 60 other oil paintings and dozens of drawings by Pissarro next Thursday and Friday at Wuppertal, Germany.


Unloading a Barge, Sunset c. 1864    PDR 85 Private collection

Unloading a Barge, Sunset
c. 1864 PDR 85
Private collection

“Unloading a Barge, Sunset” (PDR 85) is an incredible painting, even in a photograph. Painted about 1864, it is one of the few survivors of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) during which thousands of Pissarro’s artworks were destroyed. We can only wonder how many other beautiful canvases were lost.

At first glance, we are reminded of the painting that gave Impressionism its name, Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise” (1872). Pissarro made this painting eight years before Monet’s painting and ten years before the First Impressionist Exhibition. It is possible that Monet saw this painting by Pissarro in Louveciennes when they painted together before the War.

Even at this early stage in his career (Pissarro had come to Paris only nine years earlier), the artist was making his own rules. The standards for art during those days was set by the French Academy in their annual Salon exhibitions. Their mandates were clear: important topics, historical or mythical; smooth finish, no visible brushstrokes; giant canvases suitable for public buildings, and more. This painting defies every dictum.

The focal point is clear—a dark, shadowy barge in the foreground, its mast pointing our eyes to the top of the canvas. It depicts a workaday scene, a man pushing a wheelbarrow down the gangplank unloading goods. On the other side, a man standing in a small skiff works with someone on deck. At the right edge, a small white sailboat describes the width of the river and emphasizes the painting’s strong asymmetrical composition. The painting is tiny by any standards, approximately 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches.

Unlike most of Pissarro’s later paintings, the title of this one does not indicate the location. But the type of boat and width of the river suggest that the location could be somewhere on the Seine River near Paris. Pissarro had made other paintings of barges at La Roche Guyon, a village near Giverny, and this might be the scene, but with the background subsumed in blue-grey shadows, it is impossible to know for sure.

The boat and all the figures are mere silhouettes against the sunset, brilliantly depicted with bold brushstrokes and heavy impasto, paint layered on as thick as butter on toast. The brilliance of the sun is masterful, created with a cool pale yellow which we see as white hot. Its heat tinges the nearby clouds with rose, coral and pale pink fading gradually into the darker blue of the overcast sky. In the dark water, shimmers of white and gold and red surround the dark reflection of the barge.

Many artists would have moved beyond the barge to give the sunset and the glimmering water the most emphasis. But Pissarro forces us to look at the boat first and makes our eyes work to get beyond it to the colors in the sky.  A radical composition and a true treasure.


Many readers from this blog are from Germany—there are at least two today! Over the past few months, 348 views have been from Germany.  If you are one of those, or if you are from Belgium, France, or any nearby country, you might be interested in this Pissarro exhibition!


Von der Heydt Museum

Wuppertal, Germany

Until February 22, 2015

The exhibition contains nearly 60 paintings by Pissarro and an even larger number of his works on paper—drawings, etchings, prints, wood block prints and all types of media. They are paired with a large number of paintings by other painters of that time, most notably paintings by Fritz Melbye, who went with Pissarro to Venezuela, and Ludovic Piette, his very close friend and owner of Montfoucault, a large farm in Brittany where Pissarro and his family visited frequently.

There are also paintings and drawings by such artists as Corot, Daubigny, Courbet, Manet, Gauguin, Monet, Sisley, Signac, Cézanne, Seurat, and other painters contemporary with Pissarro.

There are many early paintings and paintings from private collections on view that I have never seen.  I am going to see the exhibition in early December.  If you are in Germany and plan to see the exhibition, let me know. (


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

Bac à la Varenne-Saint-Hilaire
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.

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.)

*   *   *


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.

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



*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *


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


Haystacks, Morning, Éragny 1899 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York   PDR 1282

Haystacks, Morning, Éragny
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York PDR 1282

Camille Pissarro is not known for his haystacks, but perhaps he should be. According to the catalogue raisonne, he painted haystacks when he was only 26 years old—the year after he returned to France to pursue a career as an artist.

In the winter of 1898-99, Pissarro was financially comfortable enough to move his family to Paris for the winter. They stayed in an apartment on Rue Rivoli, no doubt a lot warmer than the old farmhouse at Éragny, and he painted splendid views of the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre.

In June, he and his family returned to their home at Éragny and he painted the “little nooks” he found around him.  He wrote his son Ludovic-Rodolphe, “It’s very beautiful here—you can make a masterpiece out of next to nothing,” and he did.

The deep green trees of midsummer dominate the space, but our eyes go to the three haystacks in the left foreground. As he usually does, Pissarro tells us the place and time of day. It’s morning, fairly early since the shadows are still long. You almost feel the heat of the sun baking the left side of the haystack turning the gold into myriad yellows, pinks, corals. On the other side, the purple shadow mutes those same colors. 

This is one of six haystack paintings he made that summer. In no way did Pissarro intend them to compete with Monet’s haystacks. Each of them is different in composition; some include a peasant woman, who sometimes naps at the base of the haystack.  He did do another one similar to this one, in the late afternoon. It would be fantastic to see these two side by side.

This wonderful painting is currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  If you can’t go see it in person, look at it on the Met’s website, which allows you to zoom in close and see every brushstroke.

The Camille Pissarro Catalogue Raisonne by Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts was published in 2005.


Many thanks to the kind folks who came to the Dobbs Ferry and Harrison libraries a couple weeks ago

to hear my talk on PISSARRO’S PLACES.

It was delightful to talk with you afterward and sign your copies of PISSARRO’S PLACES.

*   *   *   *   *


is available on the website:

or at Amazon.

There is a special discount for

friends who visit the website.


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 100 other followers



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 100 other followers

%d bloggers like this: