Pissarro Afield- The Hills at Thierceville

1189 Thierceville Hills

The Hills at Thierceville, 1897, Private Collection PDRS 1189

When Pissarro returned home in mid-July 1897 after two months of caring for his ill son Lucien in London, he painted his garden and the meadow at his Èragny home. One day, he took his easel and walked a mile and a half northwest of Èragny to the hills surrounding the village of Thierceville.

In this place, unlike his enclosed garden and tree-lined meadow, he found complete openness—just the earth and the sky. The only trees were far away. The haystacks on the left suggest that some of the fields had been harvested. But it appears that Pissarro set his easel in the midst of an uncut field.

The long green and yellow brushstrokes fill the foreground beginning at the lower left corner and forming an ascending diagonal line to the right edge. The area with the haystacks is mostly green and horizontal brushstrokes give it an appearance of smoothness. To the right, a shepherd and a flock of sheep occupy a yellow patch of ground that echoes the diagonal beneath it. Surrounding them are other patches of land, dark green, light green, salmon and another patch with long green brushstrokes. In the distance behind the haystacks are rows of dark green trees and other hillsides. The sky reinforces the perspective with tiny clouds just above the distant hills turning into larger more colorful clouds up close.

Though this is a pleasant scene, it offers no dramatic focal point—an important object or person. It teaches no lesson nor does it promote any cause. This is one of those paintings about which Pissarro said, “. . . the eye of the passerby is too hasty and sees only the surface. Whoever is in a hurry will not stop for me.”

So if we are to understand why Pissarro painted this picture as he did, perhaps we should listen to his own words. “I see only spots of color. When I begin a painting, the first thing I try to put down is the accord.” When Pissarro looked at this field, he did not necessarily see fields of grain with haystacks and sheep. He saw blocks of color—robust green brushstrokes set against smoother linear areas in pale green, yellow and salmon. Above that a vivid contrast in texture and color—vigorous circular strokes in shades of white and lavender.

What happens in a painting when color and brushstroke are more important than haystacks and a flock of sheep? If we dare to compare this painting with many of those made half a century later, we might conclude that this painting is close to abstract. Considering it this way, even the most casual observer might be willing to stop and examine it more closely.

PISSARRO – In Paris next February

An exciting new retrospective of Camille Pissarro’s works will be exhibited at the Marmottan Monet Museum in Paris, opening on February 23.  The following is from the Marmottan’s web-site.

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CAMILLE PISSARRO “FIRST OF IMPRESSIONNISTES”

From February 23 to July 2, 2017

The Marmottan Monet Museum presents, from February 23 to July 2, 2017, the first monographic exhibition Camille Pissarro in Paris for 36 years. Some seventy-five of his masterpieces, paintings and temperas, from major museums worldwide and prestigious private collections, tracing the work of Camille Pissarro, from his youth in the Danish West Indies to large series urban of Paris, Rouen and Le Havre at the end of his life. Considered by Cézanne as ” the first Impressionist ” Pissarro was one of the founders of this group. It is also the only one to participate in their eight exhibitions. Companion and faithful friend of Monet, master of Cézanne and Gauguin, Seurat inspirer, supporter of Signac, Pissarro is a major and essential artist. Polyglot intellectual, committed and militant, listening to the younger generation, his work, powerful and evolving, offers a unique view of the research that has animated the Impressionists and Post-circles of the second half of the nineteenth century.

http://www.marmottan.fr/uk/Exposition_%C3%A0_venir-musee-2590

 

Camille Pissarro’s Birthday – July 10, 1830

The world thinks of Camille Pissarro as an Impressionist.  And indeed, Cezanne called him “The First Impressionist.”  But long before that, Pissarro was a highly skilled artist. This painting, which is the first listed in the catalogue raisonne (Pissarro-Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, 2005), is dated 1852-54 and was painted in Venezuela. [Earlier works may have been destroyed when Pissarro’s house was occupied by enemy troops during the Franco-Prussian War, 1870]  It clearly demonstrates his knowledge of perspective, figure painting and the effect of brilliant sunlight.

1 plaza mayor

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

Two decades later Pissarro was at the forefront of the Impressionist movement, creating innovative ways of painting. This painting from 1873 was shown at the first Impressionist exhibition. While it uses the effect of sunlight and the clear colors of Impressionism, it is so much more. We barely see the trees and bushes and man because our eyes are captured by the multitudes of lines and angles and the play of color dividing one section from the other. Specifically, we can’t help seeing the giant X created by lines from the treetop on the left through the bushes at center and continuing along the top of the dark orange section. It is crossed by a line from the tree on the right though the center bush and down the other side of the dark orange section. We do not see this as just a reproduction of early morning frost. We see how paint is used on canvass, the contrast of light blue and orange in a geometric grid. This painting may be called Impressionist, but it is no less than an abstract painting.

EPSON MFP image

Hoar-Frost at Ennery 1873 Musée d’Orsay PDRS 285

At the age of 56, Pissarro was working in the Pointilist style and made this painting near his home in Éragny. The melange of dots placed closely together produce the different colors, but that is not what draws your attention.  The sharp geometric structure create color blocks of yellow and green and blue. It is almost irrelevant that a tiny steam engine is pulling a train into our vision. The shapes look like flat puzzle pieces that fit snugly together. To make sure our eyes stay on the color blocks, Pissarro paints in a neutral cloudy sky above with nothing to distract us from the totally abstract design beneath.

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The Dieppe Railway 1886 Philadelphia Museum of Art PDRS 828

In his later years, Pissarro often painted from windows in order to protect his eye which frequently became infected. He spent winters in Paris in various locations. In 1901, he was living at Place Dauphine on the Île de la Citė where he had a splendid view of the Pont -Neuf leading over to the Samaritaine, the large department store on the Right Bank.  The painting is warm and lush with golden sunlight bathing the buildings and reflections in the turquoise water.

Pont-Neuf-1351

The Pont-Neuf, Afternoon, Sunlight (First Series) 1901 Philadelphia Museum of Art PDRS 1351

The buildings, which should suggest substance and mass, look instead like flat theatrical sets. The road, a flowing mass teeming with carriages and pedestrians, is only contained by the side of the bridge with its familiar circular spaces glistening bright white creating a strong diagonal line from the bottom of the canvas to center right. While we can’t see the other side of the bridge, we do see another glistening white horizontal block which almost meets the diagonal of the bridge, drawing our eyes to the Samaritaine. When we get there, however, there is almost nothing to see, a rather shadowy building, less distinct than the others, and not even flying the flags that were customary over Samaritaine.  Just to balance the strong acute angle and give it stability, Pissarro uses the quai across the river to complete the horizontal. However, he diminishes its importance by making it the same color as the building above it and draws our attention to the reflections in the breathtakingly beautiful turquoise water, which cools down all of the buttery yellow blocks and white hot diagonals.

This painting is clearly a scene we recognize, and it still looks the same today (though some of the Samaritaine buildings were reconfigured under a single facade many years ago). Though this picture is clearly representational, something easily recognized, the power of the abstract geometric elements captures our attention. 

Perhaps as we acknowledge Pissarro as the First Impressionist, we should begin to acknowledge the importance of abstract elements in his paintings. Dana Gordon, a New York City artist, said it first and best:

Pissarro traditionally was known as a great landscapist, a translator of nature into art. Pissarro showed that painting’s basic qualities — colors, brushstrokes, materiality, lines, shapes, composition—were meaningful in their own right, and transformed paint into purely visual poetry. He was, in essence, the first abstract artist.

Pissarro – Studing a Rare Early Painting

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Paysage à La Varenne-Saint-Hilaire, 1863 Private collection, PDRS 72

 

The appearance of a Pissarro painting that has long been in private collections is always exciting.  It is even more compelling when it is an early painting because so few of these exist in Pissarro’s oeuvre. Those who study Pissarro know that in 1870 when Pissarro was 40 years old, the soldiers occupied his home and destroyed nearly everything he had created until then. (He and his family escaped, first to Brittany and then to London, for the duration of the war.)

Recently at the Spring Masters Show in New York, Gallery 19C of Los Angeles exhibited a beautiful early painting by Pissarro. There is no clue as to how this small painting (7 1/2 x 9 3/4”) on a wood panel was saved. If the soldiers had seen it, they probably would have added it to other fuel in the fireplace to heat the large house.

This painting is especially important because it helps track Pissarro’s early development. The works he produced as a young man in St. Thomas and Venezuela demonstrate that he was an accomplished artist and display the sunlight and bright colors he would later incorporate into Impressionism.

Pissarro came to France in 1855, just in time to see the works of Corot, Daubigny, and Courbet at the Exposition Universelle. While these artists were beginning to push against academic art, they still utilized the subdued browns and grays most admired by Salon painters.

Seemingly influenced by their example and probably feeling pressure from his father to enter a painting in the Salon, Pissarro abandoned the vivid reds and bright blues of his Caribbean paintings and began using more subdued colors like the browns, grays and dark greens in this painting. As if he just couldn’t contain himself, however, he paints the roof a bright blue and ties it to the red kerchief on one of the women below with white dabs of paint that might be flowers on the tree.

His inventiveness goes way beyond Corot, Daubigny, and Courbet, however, in the prominence of his brushstrokes and his use of color to create design. There are four basic elements in the painting—the brown earth, the silver blue of the river, the blackish green of the forest, and the gray sky.  The field in the foreground is represented with prominent horizontal brush strokes. The tiny strip of water would be almost indistinguishable except it is set off by small vertical green strokes suggesting foliage on the bank. The forest is composed of black and dark green blotches and the only clue we have that they are trees are the barely visible trunks. Brush strokes are most evident as paint on canvas in the sky where the swirls and globs display the movement of the bristles. The two buildings, constructed with blocks of vertical brushstrokes, are there merely to create perspective in the layers of color.

Imagine if you will that there is no field, no stream or sky, and that what you see are stripes of color separated by two vertical blocks with swirls at the top. It’s not so hard to do.

As a landscape, this is a little treasure—delightful and pleasant to see.  However, once you study it closely, you have to question if that was Pissarro’s intention.  Or did he simply use the  landscape as the basis for making abstract design with paint on canvas? 

Pissarro Painting Returns to Holocaust Survivors

 

shepherdess

Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep, 1886

It is good news when great paintings remain available to be seen by the people who love them.  In the agreement between the University of Oklahoma and the Holocaust survivor’s family, this incredible painting by Camille Pissarro will remain in museums, rotating between France and Oklahoma. For the full story on the agreement, please see the article in the New York Times. (http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/02/23/university-of-oklahoma-agrees-to-return-pissarro-painting-looted-by-nazis/)

This painting is not as well known as some of Pissarro’s paintings, but it is extremely interesting for many reasons. Just a year before, Pissarro had been introduced to Paul Signac and then later to Georges Seurat, who was in the process of developing a new scientific way of making paintings by placing tiny dots of contrasting colors close together. None of this was new to Pissarro, who had for several years been experimenting with color division based on the works of Eugène Chevreul and Ogden Rood.

In this painting, Pissarro uses tiny brushstrokes of varying colors to form the image. For example, look at the woman’s green apron, which includes several shades of green, blue, pink, and even dark blue to form the shadow on the side.

Look at the left side of the painting at the wall between the edge and the door frame. You will find pink, yellow, gray, blue, salmon, and even light green composing the mixture that looks like bright yellow. As early as 1881, well before he met Seurat, Pissarro was using these color techniques to create luminosity in his paintings.

The composition of this painting is most interesting, as well. Everything feels pushed together with the overlapping of the small cottages in the background.  Even the fence to the left of the gate seems to be leaning forward. It feels as though everything in the background is pushing the young woman so that she is almost “bursting” through the gate.  (Incidentally, did you notice the proud rooster behind her?)

The timid sheep, shyly sticking their noses forward, create tension by pushing in the opposite direction. Though you know the woman wants the sheep to come in the gate, you worry that her momentum will just overpower their forward motion. The poor little sheep themselves look more like wooly stuffed toys than real animals. Though we see the young woman’s shape, her facial features are almost nonexistent so we have no sense of her as a real person.

So what was Pissarro really painting? To be sure, it is an interesting picture of an everyday task performed in countless villages in his day. But it is a superb demonstration of the use of a mixture of colors to create light and shadow.  And it is a fascinating study of the push and pull of opposing forms, even when those images tell a different story.  No wonder those who have seen it become attached to it.

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN PISSARRO MADE A PAINTING, NOT A PICTURE

The Rabbit-Warren at Pontoise 1879 The Art Institute of Chicago (IL) PDR 587

Rabbit-Warren at Pontoise 1879 The Art Institute of Chicago (IL) PDR 587

 

This finger-numbing winter scene was painted in 1879 atop a high hill in Pontoise. The coldness of the air is accentuated by the dark blue clouds  and the patches of heavy snow on the ground. The only hint of warmth is in the dull orange chimney pots on two houses.

Like many of Pissarro’s paintings, this one has no defined focal point. At the very center is a tiny sapling not large enough or important enough to draw our attention. The man gathering wood at the right is more of a caricature than a defined person. The stand of tall trees on the left are large, but their importance is diminished because we can see neither the top nor bottom of them.There are no rabbits, and the only evidence of a rabbit-warren is the large snow-covered mound on the side of the hill.

This picture is all about a diagonal line. The big trees bring our eyes to the ground where it begins its downward slope. If the man on the right were facing into the picture, he would define a stopping point.  However, he is facing out which suggests that the line continues past him, past the edge of the canvas into infinity. This gives us the feeling that we are slipping and sliding down the icy hill. This type of composition would have been radical, even during the Impressionist period ( generally considered to be 1872-1884).

This is not a picturesque snowy hill with snow layered in even brushstrokes. Pissarro uses small circular strokes of white interlaced with grey and blue for the snow and allows dark spiky undergrowth to break through its surface. The large dark patch in the left corner supports the large trees and an arrow-shaped dark patch near the center points downward toward the man. Even the houses and chimney pots reinforce the diagonal, from the left upper corner to the rooftops on the right side.

Even though we would call this an Impressionist landscape, there are many elements that define it as abstract: no focal point, strong geometrical composition, endless edges (going beyond the edge of the canvas), evident brushstrokes that call attention to the paint.  In fact, if isolated from the rest of the painting, the lower left quarter could be seen as an abstract painting.

Detail, Rabbit-Warren

Detail, Rabbit-Warren

These abstract elements are not uncommon among Pissarro’s works.  From the very beginning of his career in Paris, he celebrated the materiality of painting, making the painting itself as important as the scene.  It’s no wonder that Theodore Duret, an art critic, had written in 1870 that Pissarro “ … has painted a landscape without making a picture (emphasis added). Instead of making a lifelike image of this ordinary place, he used the view as inspiration to make an arrangement of paint on canvas.

PISSARRO IN THE AUTUMN OF HIS LIFE

Autumn at Eragny, 1900 Private collection PDR 1342

Autumn at Eragny, 1900
Private collection PDR 1342

As he had done in recent years, Pissarro once again moved his family to Paris In November of 1900 for the winter months. But before leaving É­­ragny, he made four paintings of the orchard behind his home.  When he converted his barn into a studio, he had a large window installed in the back wall (see photo) which allowed him to work without endangering his infection-prone eye.

Pissarro in his Studio at Eragny

Pissarro in his Studio at Eragny

At this time in his life, he was working tirelessly to make the paintings that he knew would provide income for his family after he was gone. From this point to his death on November 13, 1903, he made 186 more paintings. This one was inherited by his wife Julie who gave it to their son Paul-Emile Pissarro. It is now in a private collection in Luxembourg, according to the Pissarro catalogue raisonne (2005).

The heart of the splendid fall colors is found in the center of the tree just above the trunk (see detail). The splashes of yellow, orange and red are offset by dark emerald green fading into lighter yellows and greens that predominate in the background. Many of Pissarro’s landscapes have been likened to tapestries because of the way he wove his brushstrokes together. This is a perfect example of that technique. Magnification, as in the detail, shows the impasto or heavy layer of paint that actually forms little ridges on the surface. The texture of the painted areas captures light and intensifies the colors.

1342 Detail

While the tree with its brilliant leaves is the obvious focal point, it is set to the side revealing the countryside behind it. Pissarro divides the canvas into four distinct horizontal stripes, distinguished by differing directional textures. In the foreground, the darker green brushstrokes are short diagonals, some of them forming x marks. In the middle ground beyond the women, the strokes appear to be longer and more upright, with slight color differences creating horizontal rows. In the background beyond the fence, Pissarro suggests an upward slope by using vertical lines of trees that point to the stormy sky above. The flowing strokes of the clouds create a horizontal movement that completes the composition. The gray-blue-violet colors complement and intensify the yellows and oranges of the tree.

The overall question is: what is more important—the lovely rural scene captured in this painting or the design and texture which makes this painting so interesting? While Pissarro tells us it was painted at É­­ragny, the subject is hardly distinguished. It certainly has no importance as a landmark or historical place. In fact, if the fall colors were not so brilliant, there would be little to look at. Because Pissarro created such varied directional textures, we have to assume that he was more interested in the texture of the paint, the colors, the design—the abstract elements we value in contemporary paintings. This is why Pissarro was so far ahead of his time and why it is important that his paintings be valued for their abstract qualities.


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