Archive for February, 2012

A Puzzle to Mid-Nineteenth Century Eyes…Still Puzzling Now

Hoar-Frost at Ennery

1873 Musée d’Orsay, Paris  PDR 285

One cold winter morning, Pissarro carried his easel directly north of Pontoise to the fields of nearby Ennery. The painting he made there, Hoar-Frost at Ennery, was shown in the first exhibition of the Impressonists at Nadar’s studio in Paris in 1874.

Responses from some of the art critics of the time were extremely harsh. One critic pointed out what was considered one of the most serious mistakes of that era, showing shadows on the ground of trees that are not in the picture. Another proclaimed that the painting had “neither head nor tail, neither top nor bottom, neither front nor back.”

Even to our eyes, the painting is dramatically different from other Impressionist paintings. This is no Sisley landscape with reflections in the river or Monet haystacks. Those are simple to understand. At first glance, this painting seems commonplace with the horizon line two-thirds of the way to the top. But below that is an extremely complex composition. The only familiar reference points are the bare trees and the peasant. Two-thirds of the painting is a patchwork of colors crisscrossed by parallel lines with a dark green anchor near the center. The work could be that of a contemporary abstract artist.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Pissarro to be Auctioned at Christie’s


PHOTO AND CAPTION FROM ARTDAILY.ORG— A Christie's employee poses with an artwork, titled Pommiers a Eragny, by French artist Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) during an auction preview in London. The painting, which forms part of The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor, is estimated to fetch between 900,000-1.2 million GBP at Christie's Impressionist and Modern Art sale on 07 February. EPA/KERIM OKTEN. For full story, see


           What do you think?  Please comment.

One of Pissarro’s most intriguing paintings, Chestnut Trees at Louveciennes, (1872, Paris, Musée d’Orsay, PDR 218*) appears somewhat ordinary on first glance. Unlike most of Pissarro’s paintings, this one has a distinct focal point, a large red brick house right in the center.

The painting gets its name from the curvy chestnut trees that provide a frame around the house.  Indeed, the two trees on the right side appear to be joined together in the arching branches. It is only with a closer look that we determine that the two branches have their own extensions and are not grown together.

The bright winter sun glints pale yellow on the snow-covered ground causing the trees and fence to cast blue shadows across the foreground. The woman and child may be Julie, Pissarro’s wife and their daughter Minette, who would have been six at the time. But we are unable to see their faces clearly.

The choice of motif is interesting in that this house in Louveciennes looks more like the large Victorian houses Pissarro painted in London. The house has mysteries of its own, which are less visible in photographs but quite obvious on the original canvas.

In the area above the little girl’s head and beneath the interlocking tree branches, there is a yellowish-pink color that is totally different from the blue sky and white clouds above. In the space between the white pillar at the back of the house and the little building to the right, we see two dark spots surrounded by a white area. These spots seem similar in size and shape to the small windows on the side of the house. Between the house and the little building are several sketchy marks that suggest the framework of another house, or perhaps an extension between the two buildings—a ghostly apparition.

At this point, we cannot say whether Pissarro intended to do additional work in that part of the canvas. What we do know is that it was in the collection of Dr. Gachet.  Vincent van Gogh saw it in 1890 and wrote his brother Theo that it was a “very fine Pissarro, [a] winter [scene] with a red house under snow.”

*PDR refers to the number of this painting in the Pissarro Critical Catalogue by Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snoellerts, published in 2005.

Pissarro in Montfoucault

He painted the place that time forgot. See the FB page: PISSARRO’S PLACE.


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