Square in La Roche-Guyon 1865
Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie PDR 104
Last weekend, the small half-timbered building on the left had a sign reading, “A Vendre,” “For Sale.” It seems a bit shocking because Pissarro’s iconic painting of this intersection in La Roche-Guyon has become a benchmark in his early works. But Pissarro chose to paint places that were commonplace (or common place) rather than famous landmarks.
He effectively captured the spirit of the place, which has changed remarkably little in the last hundred and fifty years. He seems to have rearranged the architecture to meet his own artistic goals, since the gabled roof and half-timbered façade actually appear around the corner.
Much of the appeal of this painting lies in the patterns made by the lofty gables and brown rooftops. The center building is the tallest, and its gable is topped by chimney pots. However, the decorative half-timbered façade provides the greatest interest. The people are merely elements giving human scale to the buildings.
The thick impasto (layers of paint) over most of the painting suggests that Pissarro used the palette knife. This painting was made just two years after Pissarro and Cezanne became friends. During this period, they were challenging each other to develop innovative artistic techniques, according to Joachim Pissarro, curator of “Pioneering Modern Paintings: Cezanne/Pissarro” (2005 exhibition at Museum of Modern Art).
Describing those heavy layers of paint, J Pissarro said, “This term obviously emphasized the sheer physical thickness of layer over layer of paint, applied with a palette knife. The impact of thick layers of colored paste left a strong impression on a generation of early critics who looked at either artist’s work.”
Since La Roche-Guyon has become a tourist destination in recent years, we can only hope the little half-timbered building will be acknowledged as the subject of this important painting.
La Roche-Guyon today
The Seine river valley at La Roche-Guyon