PISSARRO in Paris and Pontoise–Three Exhibitions at Once

285 Hoarfrost copy

Hoar Frost, 1873


Market at Gisors


1184 Stairs at corner of garden, Eragny 1897

There is no way to prepare for this after years of traveling from Wuppertal, Germany to Sydney, Australia just to see the few Pissarro exhibitions that come up.  Now in Paris and its suburbs, there are three Pissarro exhibitions at the same time—an unbelievable feast of works to study and admire. I saw all three in just three days. Overload of Pissarro is never a bad thing, but it leaves one speechless and unable to articulate very much about any of them. I will be seeing the two in Paris again, and I will write detailed reviews about all three in the coming weeks. But for now, a small sample of each one.

Pissarro at the Marmottan is a retrospective of Pissarro’s works, the first in some thirty-six years in Paris.  It was elegantly curated by Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, co-author of the Pissarro catalogue raisonne (2005) and Christophe Duvivier, director of the two museums in Pontoise, the  Tavet-Delacour and Camille Pissarro Museums. It charts the many innovations of Pissarro from his early days in Saint Thomas to his last paintings in Paris. The paintings chosen for the exhibition are masterworks, many of them familiar to Pissarro enthusiasts, but it also includes unfamiliar works, many of them from private collections. A large number of the paintings are from museums and collections in the United States and have not been seen in France for many decades. One painting from Australia was never exhibited in France. It was bought immediately after completion by art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel who took it to the US for an exhibition where it was sold. This is the first time it has been seen in France. Because of the Marmottan’s limited space, the exhibition is not huge, but the careful, knowledgeable choices make it extremely satisfying. A marvelous catalog in French and English includes beautiful reproductions and closeups of the paintings.

Pissarro in Pontoise, curated by Christophe Duvivier, displays a large collection of works on paper held by the Camille Pissarro Museum in Pontoise. This lovely town on the Oise River was home to Pissarro for two periods of time including about 16 years, and the paintings he made there are some of his most beloved. The exhibition, filling four large galleries, includes watercolors, etching, prints, and engravings from throughout his career. Some are of Pontoise sites, and others include works created at Rouen, Dieppe and Éragny. This exhibition shows many different kinds of innovations with which Pissarro experimented. The catalog has splendid reproductions of the works, and it is almost easier to see them because of the necessity of dim light in the galleries. However, there is no substitute for seeing the actual hand of the artist and his frequent hand-written notes on the edges.

Pissarro at the Luxembourg Museum in Paris, curated by Joachim Pissarro and Richard Brettell, focuses entirely on Pissarro’s works in Éragny-sur-Epte from 1884 until his death in 1903. Even though Pissarro went on painting tours to Paris, London, Rouen, Dieppe, and Le Havre during those years, he generally spent summers and some winters at his home in the tiny village of Éragny. The house, large enough for his growing family, came with a large garden, a barn (which he eventually turned into a studio), and meadows that stretched all the way to the beautiful little Epte river. Even so, the space is no bigger than that of a large suburban estate in the US.  With such limitations, it seems that subject matter would be restricted.  But the genius of Pissarro is that through composition, contrasts in weather and season, and amazing use of color, there is an astonishing variety of paintings. There are many fine examples of Pointillism, which Pissarro embraced around 1886. But later paintings show how he worked his way out of that technique and developed a new way of painting, even more intense than Impressionism. The catalog includes reproductions of the paintings and the many works on paper included in the exhibition.  Unfortunately, it is presented only in French.

Watch this blog for more detailed reviews of each of these fine exhibitions. Each one deserves its own space. Now I’m off to Copenhagen, Denmark to see yet another Pissarro exhibition!

Pissarro’s Early Abstract Painting

119 L'Hermitage at Pontoise 1867

L’Hermitage at Pontoise. 1867. Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany. PDRS 119.

In 1867, Pissarro had been back in Paris for twelve years, and several of his paintings had been accepted by the Salon. The group that would become known as the Impressionists were already acquainted and discussing their work.  Pissarro had been experimenting for several years with various innovative techniques and had produced many paintings that would have been seen as radical at that time. This is one of those paintings, produced seven years before the first Impressionist Exhibition.

In 1903, Pissarro explained how he saw only color, saying, “I can see only patches (of color). When I start off a painting, the first thing I strive to catch is its harmonic form [l’accord]. Between that sky and that ground and that water there is necessarily a link. It can only be a set of harmonies [relation d’accords], and this is the ultimate hardship with painting.”

In L’Hermitage at Pontoise (1867) [PDRS 119], Pissarro used color to create the shapes and forms on the canvas instead of drawing outlines. He painted those patches of color with no shadows or modeling, so they appear to be flat on the canvas. This is especially apparent in the houses, which appear to have no volume at all. The curving fields on the hillside look like flat trapezoidal color blocks. Increasing that sense of flatness, the colors at the top of the hill which should be farthest away, are just as intense as those in the foreground, causing the background to push forward. Pissarro created a slight sense of recession by overlapping the houses.  Only in the foreground is there any indication of perspective. Everything behind that—the houses and hillside—are as flat as theatrical scenery. He was creating a new way of painting—one which called attention to the paint on the canvas rather than the picture.

Only in the foreground is there any indication of perspective. Everything behind that—the houses and hillside—are as flat as theatrical scenery. He was creating a new way of painting—one which called attention to the paint on the canvas rather than the picture.

This is a very early painting that demonstrates how Pissarro was using radical elements in his paintings. These elements are familiar to us today and we call them “abstract.”

Reference for quote: Richard R. Brettell and Joachim Pissarro. The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro’s Series Paintings. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. 1992, p xxxix.

Pissarro at the Marmottan–A Review

La Charcutiere 1883

A wonderful review of the Pissarro exhibition at the Marmottan appeared in Art Daily today.  Use the link below to see it.


Video from Pissarro exhibitions in Paris and Pontoise


Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 10.23.07 AM

Here is a link to a wonderful video which features art from both the Luxembourg and Pontoise exhibitions.  Christophe Duvivier, director of the two museums in Pontoise, takes you inside the barn/studio of Pissarro at his home in Eragny.  He and Joachim Pissarro, the artist’s great-grandson talk (in French) about the exhibitions currently on view in Paris, Pontoise, and Copenhagen.




PISSARRO in Paris, in Pontoise, and in Copenhagen

This Spring offers an unprecedented opportunity to study the work of Camille Pissarro with four unique exhibitions available at the same time.

PISSARRO at the Marmottan, already open, offers a comprehensive retrospective of his life’s work, bringing together many of his masterpieces.



PISSARRO at Éragny is a more specialized look at his rural landscapes after 1884, a group of paintings that have not been closely studied before.



PISSARRO: In the Chestnut Grove at Louveciennes



Chestnut Grove at Louveciennes, 1872, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, PDRS 233

Chestnut Grove at Louveciennes [PDRS 233], painted by Pissarro in 1872, is one of three Pissarro masterpieces that will be on exhibition when the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art opens their newly renovated Bloch Galleries on March 11. This painting alone makes a cross-country flight to Kansas City worthwhile.

When Pissarro returned to Louveciennes after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), he immediately began painting sites near his own home. This grove of trees must have been very close since the Marly Aqueduct, visible in the background, also ran behind Pissarro’s house.

In real life, these few trees may have looked rather ordinary, but Pissarro used them to make a painting that is no less than radical. The trees make dark slashes across the sky and dig deep into the canvas. They force you to pay attention—nothing else is important, not the pale blue sky or the smattering of houses in the background, not even the Marly Aqueduct.

The big tree in the foreground establishes its preeminence with its broad trunk, white in the sunlight, and one twisted branch reaching up to and out of the canvas at the upper left corner. From the main trunk, another curved branch makes a sharp angle to the right. Between them a large branch seemingly comes from nowhere, extending parallel to the other one. To the right, another tree is bent over at an extremely sharp angle. Its trunk, unusually straight, reaches across half the canvas to the upper right corner. The other trees merely stand by, as straight as their twisted trunks will allow. In the foreground, dark purple shadows radiate from the larger tree, crisscrossing the pale grass even on the side where the sun is shining.

This painting is a grand pas de deux in composition. These two trees command the canvas—their branches embracing the top corners, their shadows making angles on the foreground. And it all comes back to the two trunks, the big gnarly one bent slightly to the left and the slim straight one with its dangerous angle to the right.

What was important to Pissarro was the pattern made by the trees and the shadows. If in your imagination, you eliminate the background and consider only the two trees, this composition might remind you of a painting by Franz Kline, with its bold slashes and sharp angles.

This is why Pissarro was so much more than we ever imagined—even during the birth of Impressionism, he was painting in an abstract manner.


Vavvdavitch 1955 Franz Kline Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago




Another very important Pissarro exhibition will take place in Pontoise this spring featuring  Pissarro’s print-making.  The following information is taken from the Facebook page of Musée Pissarro.  The translation from French is mine with the help of Google translations. If you’d like to read the original,  see: https://www.facebook.com/Mus%C3%A9e-Camille-Pissarro-314021768084/

In the second half of the 19th century, Pissarro worked together with Degas to make original engravings. Through his research, freely associating watercolor, aquatint and dry point, they invented Impressionist printmaking. In addition to nearly 200 prints, Pissarro also made monotypes.

In the early 1860s, Pissarro made his first etchings with a classical system of lines and hatching. When Dr. Gachet installed a press in his house in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1873, Pissarro made engravings together with Guillaumin and Cezanne. Beginning in 1879, he began a fruitful collaboration with Degas, who introduced him to colored inks. Pissarro began experimenting with engravings in multiple states that allowed him to retain variants of the same composition.  The possibility of comparing different versions of a motif was a precious discovery that influenced his paintings of urban and port views in his later years. He called his engravings, “engraved impressions.”

This is the most important exhibition in France of Pissarro’s print-making in many decades. It includes works from the collections of the Musée Pissarro, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and private collections along with monotypes from the Musee Malraux du Havre and the Musee d’Aix-les-Baines.

Musée Tavet-Delacour, 4 rue Lemercier 95300 Pontoise

Open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 12:30 and from 13:30 to 18:00

6. PONTOISE d.pdf - Adobe Acrobat Professional

Pontoise is situated on high cliffs overlooking the Oise River. I took this photograph, one of my favorites, from the top of the hill where the Musée Pissarro is now located. It was in Pontoise that Pissarro painted some of his most beautiful Impressionist works. Many of the sites of his paintings are much the same as when he painted them. Visit the new Tourist Office on the banks of the Oise for more information.  Pontoise is just a 40-minute train ride from Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris.


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