Posts Tagged 'London'

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

 

PISSARRO IN PARIS — ON THE COVER OF CHRISTIE’S IMPRESSIONIST CATALOGUE

Woman Pushing a Wheelbarrow, 1890 PDR875

Woman Pushing a Wheelbarrow, Éragny 1890
PDR875

Camille Pissarro is in the spotlight again — this time at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Sale to be held 25 March. In fact, a detail of the painting is featured on their catalogue cover.  Early last month, Sotheby’s featured a glorious Pissarro painting of Boulevard Montmartre on the cover of their Impressionist sale catalogue.  The interest in Pissarro’s work is obviously increasing among collectors and auction houses.  His work is finally getting the attention it deserves.

This sun drenched painting of a scene in Éragny was made just after Pissarro turned away from pointilism, the dot technique that had consumed his energy for several years. The Christie’s catalogue describes the change in Pissarro’s technique this way:  “However, rather than using the ‘stifling’ dot, as in his neoimpressionist phase, he uses a much looser, crisscrossing technique, by which he interweaves his brushstrokes, having fractured and divided the marks of paint into a more complex, but also much freer, and livelier pictorial surface.”

On Christie’s website, you can look at this painting up close which allows you to see the tiny brushstrokes and multitude of colors he used to create the image. The subject could not be more “down to earth” than this—a woman pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with manure to the pile at the edge of the field in the bright sunlight. The hedge row draws a slight diagonal to the horizon line and the steep pitched roof and gigantic tree lift our eyes to the fluffy clouds.

Pissarro made another painting of the same place in Éragny, but the manure pile is replaced with clusters of wild flowers.  The same tree and roof appear, and a woman (looks like the same one) is walking with a goat in the opposite direction.  This wonderful painting “Woman and Goat at Eragny” (PDR 874) is at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Woman and Goat at Éragny, 1889 PDR 874

Woman and Goat at Éragny, 1889
PDR 874

PISSARRO’S PLACES IN NEW YORK

DOBBS FERRY AND HARRISON

YOU’RE INVITED

Please join me March 22 at 2 pm for a slide-lecture based on my book PISSARRO’S PLACES, Dobbs Ferry Public Library, 55 Main Street, 914-693-6614

 Or  March 23 at 2 pm for a slide-lecture based on my book PISSARRO’S PLACES, Harrison Public Library, 2 Bruce Avenue, 914-835-8324

PISSARRO’S PLACES is available on the book’s website: http://www.pissarrosplaces.com and on Amazon.

PISSARRO IN SPAIN — THIS SUMMER–IT’S PISSARRO!

CTB.1993.9

The Orchard at Éragny, 1896, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on deposit at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, PDR 1134

AN EXTRAORDINARY EXHIBITION IS OPENING IN JUNE IN MADRID!!  Perhaps the gorgeous painting shown above will be among those in the exhibition at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Here’s the full story from their superb English website (http://www.museothyssen.org/en/thyssen/home)

Pissarro

From 04 June to 15 September 2013

In the summer of 2013 the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza will be presenting the first monographic exhibition in Spain on the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). A key figure within Impressionism (he wrote the movement’s foundational letter and was the only one of its artists to take part in all eight Impressionist exhibitions from 1874 to 1886), Pissarro was nonetheless eclipsed by the enormous popularity of his friends and colleagues, in particular Claude Monet. The exhibition includes more than 70 works with the aim of restoring Pissarro’s reputation and presenting him as one of the great pioneers of modern art. Landscape, the genre that prevailed in his output, will be the principal focus of this exhibition, which offers a chronologically structured tour of the places where the artist lived and painted: Louveciennes, Pontoise and Éragny, as well as cities such as Paris, London, Rouen, Dieppe and Le Havre. While Pissarro is traditionally associated with the rural world, to which he devoted more than three decades of his career, at the end of his life he shifted his attention to the city and his late output is dominated by urban views. Curated by Guillermo Solana, this exhibition will subsequently be shown at the CaixaForum, Barcelona.

THE TIMING IS EXCELLENT TO SEE PISSARRO AND THE PORTS IN LE HAVRE, FRANCE AND PISSARRO IN MADRID, SPAIN THIS SUMMER.

 

PISSARRO’S PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE THAMES IN LONDON

 

Charing Cross Bridge, London  1890

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC  PDR 884

 The Thames is one of the major avenues of transportation for visitors to the Olympics in London. This is nothing new, as Pissarro shows in this panorama of Charing Cross Bridge with the crowded ferry boats.

Pissarro emphasizes the expansiveness of the Charing Cross Bridge by choosing a canvas half again as wide as it is high. The bridge is just a narrow band through the center of the painting. Even though the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and other important buildings are in the background, they are subdued into pastel silhouettes. Even Cleopatra’s Needle on the right is subdued to anonymity.

All the big boats are placed on the right side with one large passenger boat heading straight into view. On the left is one small sail boat with a string of tiny crafts disappearing into the canvas edge. The center of the canvas contains nothing more than a span of water reflecting the sky. In the background is the Clock Tower, known as “Big Ben” which was completed in 1859. Pissarro was concerned that well-known landmarks be correct, and as he was finishing this painting in his studio in Eragny, he wrote to his niece Esther Isaacson in London to confirm the exact placement of various details.

The sky dominates more than half of the painting. What appear to be white puffy clouds are made up of pale pinks, blues, mauves in tiny comma-like strokes. The colors are the same ones seen on distant buildings. Only one sliver of blue sky is visible cutting across the right upper corner of the canvas. The river reflects the same colors, the pinks, blues and mauves, laid down in wavelets.

The steam boat plowing through the water in the lower right foreground was powered by a steam-driven paddlewheeler, a model that had not been seen on the Seine at that time. The deck was loaded with passengers, who according to Pissarro created a “mass of dots that give these boats their characteristic appearance.”  The following year in his studio, Pissarro painted another version of this scene on a less expansive canvas, moving all the boats closer to the center.

 

 

 

AMONG THE SURVIVORS–PISSARRO’S APPLE TREES

   Apple Trees in Bloom

1870, McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton (Ontario), Canada

PDR 176

Camille Pissarro had lived in Louveciennes only a year when he made this lovely painting, Apple Trees in Bloom. He had painted the scenes of his neighborhood and now was exploring the nearby countryside. After painting outside in deep snow that winter, he must have been delighted to see the blossoming apple trees of spring.

This peaceful scene soon became a war zone. By September, the Prussians had defeated Napoleon III at Sedan and their soldiers began to occupy France. Before the troops reached Louveciennes, Pissarro and his companion Julie fled with their two small children to Montfoucault, the home of their dear friend Ludovic Piette in the Mayenne. Later, the young family went to London for the duration of the war.

When the Prussians occupied Louveciennes they commandeered Pissarro’s house, sleeping soldiers upstairs and keeping horses on the ground floor. In the garden, they slaughtered livestock and poultry, using Pissarro’s canvases as aprons and to cover the muddy ground. A great number of Pissarro’s art works were lost or destroyed beyond repair.

The catalogue raisonné (Pissarro:Critical Catalogue, 2005) notes that this painting was bought from the artist by Paul Durand-Ruel on April 30, 1872, almost a year after Pissarro returned from London. There is no information on where this painting and other surviving canvases were during the war.

This landscape is a complex composition of lines and angles. The road is just one of several layers of colors which come to a point and vanish in a distant cluster of houses. Several apple trees march in a straight row diagonally across the lower left, their precise alignment broken by the leaning tree at the front. In the distance lies a village, perhaps Louveciennes. The apple trees serve as a screen, both concealing and revealing the countryside. Pissarro first used this type of composition the previous year, and he continued to develop his use of this device throughout his career.

Apple Trees in Bloom was donated to the McMaster Museum of Art (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) in the mid-1980s by Dr. Herman Herzog Levy.

Cricket? In French Impressionism?

Hampton Court Green, London

1891 Washington, DC National Gallery of Arts

PDR 887

Pissarro was intrigued by motifs that were typically English. During his second London visit in 1890, he painted his first cricket match. He must have enjoyed the game because he painted two more cricket matches on his fourth London visit.

A cricket match is not the easiest thing to depict—the players are spread out over a large playing field. Pissarro capitalizes on the expansiveness of the green lawns edged by magnificent shade trees. He allows them to extend well beyond the edges of the canvas, giving a feeling of endlessness. This and the substantial clubhouse buildings must have been an interesting change for the painter who generally confined his motif to what the eye would see in a glance. Since the painting carries the date of 1891, Pissarro must have finished it in his studio in Éragny after his return from London.

When this painting was exhibited in Belgium the next year, it attracted the enthusiastic attention of art reviewers. One critic said that the painting “showing a lawn bathed in summer light, crowded with cricket players […], possesses above all an extra-ordinary intensity. It miraculously suggests the sumptuous aristocratic English life.”



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