Posts Tagged 'Pissarro'

THE SAME YOUNG PISSARRO –STILL IN VENEZUELA

Landscape with Women under a Large Tree c. 1854-55  PDR 7 Private collection

Landscape with Women under a Large Tree
c. 1854-55 PDR 7
Private collection

The 24-year old artist who painted Landscape with Women under  Large Tree around 1854-55 is the very same one who painted Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas, featured in the previous post.

The differences in the two paintings are obvious.  Market Scene is highly realistic, with hard edges and bright clear colors. The campanile of the cathedral of Santiago in the background is accurate in detail. The cloudless sky is a deep blue, fading just a bit as it touches the rooftops. The rider’s red coat is carefully modeled to give form to his body. The reflection of the brilliant sun on the white awning contrasts with deep shadows that blur the profiles of the two women. The painting is an intentional representation of an actual scene.

The landscape featured in this post could hardly be more different. The painting is a blend of greens, oranges and browns, with only the cloudy sky for escape. The immense tree  almost disappears into the mountains behind it. We would not know where the tree ends and the ground begins were it not for the figures that may or may not be women. Their forms are simply a few blobs of white paint with touches of red complimenting the greens. Our eyes, searching for something recognizable, see an umbrella in the horizontal stroke and believe it is held by a woman.

Detail from Landscape with Women under a Large Tree

Detail from Landscape with Women under a Large Tree

The detail (below) from the center of the tree reveals the artist’s brushwork. (These details were taken from a photograph and only suggest what could be seen on the original painting.) Pissarro used small groups of diagonal strokes to construct the tree. Just above the spiky white form at the bottom, we see groups of light green diagonal strokes and nearby a patch of orange strokes. To the left, larger fatter strokes call attention to a dark area that creates a negative space. Nowhere in this painting do we see a realistic leaf or group of leaves, only groups of brushstrokes. The strokes depicting the treetop silhouetted against the sky are so thin that they virtually dissolve into the gray-white clouds. Near the center top of the trees, some bare limbs are outlined in white. This is the primary clue that the brown, green and orange form might be a tree.

Detail from Landscape with Women under a Large Tree

Detail from Landscape with Women under a Large Tree

Pissarro traveled to Venezuela with his friend Fritz Melbye, who painted native scenes in which different types of trees, bushes and vines can be identified. Pissarro also made some paintings like that as shown in Tropical Forest, Galipan.

Tropical Forest, Galipan c. 1854  PDR 6 Private collection

Tropical Forest, Galipan
c. 1854 PDR 6
Private collection

What then was Pissarro’s intent in painting the tree? Clearly, it was not a painting of the women since they are indistinguishable. He obviously was not recording botanical elements since there are no details of the foliage.

Pissarro downplayed the reality of the scene in order to call attention to the paint—the brushstrokes themselves, the groups of strokes used to construct the forms, the subtle variations in colors—dark greens, medium greens, light gray-greens, burnt orange. If you forget the tree, you see dark spaces invaded on the right by light tans and on the left by light greens.

Look again at the detail above and you see abstract painting similar to that created in the 1950s. Remember: this was 1854-55; Pissarro was only 24 years old, had not yet moved to Paris, and Impressionism was 20 years in the future.

PISSARRO — A YOUNG ARTIST IN CARACAS

Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas 1852-54   PDR 1 Presidential residence, La Casona, Caracas

Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas
1852-54 PDR 1
Presidential residence, La Casona, Caracas

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.

gaucho0001

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.

Drawing-young black woman seated

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.

5 Hut in Galipan

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.

SO WHERE’S THE TRAIN?

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

REPORT FROM THE PISSARRO EXHIBITION AT WUPPERTAL, GERMANY

La Place du Théâtre Français 1898   PDR 1208 Los Angeles Count Museum of Art

La Place du Théâtre Français
1898 PDR 1208
Los Angeles Count Museum of Art

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.

AN EARLY PISSARRO AT WUPPERTAL EXHIBITION

Landscape at La Varenne-Saint-Hilaire c. 1864  PDR 94 Kunstmuseum Bern Bern, Switzerland

Landscape at La Varenne-Saint-Hilaire
c. 1864 PDR 94
Kunstmuseum Bern
Bern, Switzerland

This tiny painting (approximately 9.5 inches by 12.5 inches) is another one that is part of the Pissarro exhibition at Wuppertal, Germany.  I am especially interested in studying these early paintings closely because they clearly demonstrate that very early in his career, Pissarro was breaking the generally accepted rules and painting in a way that was different.  He was, in fact, as interested in the paint on the surface of the canvas as he was in the motif.  This thinking was radical for his time.

Southeast of Paris, the Marne River makes a big loop and La Varenne-Saint Hilaire is one of the little villages along the riverside. Pissarro made many paintings in this area in the early 1860s. This is no ordinary landscape. From the right front of the canvas, the road leads directly to the center and meets the river, which continues out of view because of the tall house on the right.  If we imagine that the house isn’t there and we can see the river cutting across the full canvas, the road leading toward the river is perpendicular and forms a T shape.  Beyond the river on the left, the hills slope gently down forming an angle which ends on the right side at the big block-shaped house.  It is a study in geometric shapes that Pissarro filled with different colors and various brushstrokes.  I can’t wait to see those brushstrokes up close and find out if they are all brushstrokes or if he used the palette knife as well.

PISSARRO IN GERMANY

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.

WHERE’S THE FOCAL POINT?

La Côte des Jalais, Pontoise 1867    PDR 116 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

La Côte des Jalais, Pontoise
1867 PDR 116
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

At first glance, this painting looks very much like any other Impressionist landscape in museums. But what if I were to tell you this is an extremely radical painting? One critic who wrote in 1868 about this painting said, “It is painted with great simplicity; the details, executed in groups, give one the impression they were studied singly. There is a great pictorial talent here, to be sure; unfortunately, it lacks a subject.” (Emphasis is mine.)

Today, we look at abstract art and are totally unconcerned that it rarely has a subject. We don’t even expect it. But historically, paintings were “pictures of something,” a church, a river, a person, or a group of people. In fact, the most favored paintings at the Salon were expected to show famous historical or mythological scenes. Landscapes were much less important to them, and it had to have a focal point—one thing that is the center of attention. The focal point was prominently positioned, a brighter color, or larger than other elements. In other words, it was obvious what the artist wanted you to look at.

This large painting (34.2” x 45.2”) by Pissarro was exhibited in the Salon of 1868, where reportedly it was hung too high to be seen properly. But the critic could see it well enough to determine that it has no focal point. In the lower foreground, two women dressed in fashionable dresses are seen on the path. In a painting by Monet or Renoir, they would probably be the focal point, but Pissarro makes them so small, we cannot even see their faces or distinguish any details of their dresses. Additionally, they are dwarfed by the tall trees directly behind them.

Just left of the women is a group of houses, but they do not provide a focal point. They derive their importance only by their proximity to each other. They are fashioned with few brush strokes, and get their only sense of depth from the roof lines. The right side is dominated by a large dark wedge; it is impossible to distinguish bushes or trees in the tangle of dark green brushstrokes.

The curved lines of the fields are the only clues that there is a deep valley between distant horizon line and the women. The fields are painted in broad swaths of color that flatten the background and make them look closer than they would in reality. Pissarro, who had already proven himself to be proficient in painting accurate perspective, has chosen to flatten out this landscape. He never intended to make a perfect photographic replica, as the Realistic painters did. He was painting a composition of different colors and shapes set side-by-side.  He simply used the real motif as a spark for his own personal sensation.

No one would call this an abstract painting—too much is recognizable, but the flatness of the painting and the broad swathes of color are abstract elements. But radical for its time—yes, indeed.  And this was seven years before the first Impressionist Exhibition. Pissarro was using artistic techniques that were different from all other artists before that time and those who were his friends.

Much of the information in this article is from Pissarro:Critical Catalogue, Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts (2005).



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