Archive for June, 2013

PISSARRO — THE PATHFINDER

Pissarro landscape

The Cabbage Field, Pontoise, 1873 Museo Thyssen-Bornemiszo, Madrid

This Season: Olivia Weinberg’s pick of the exhibitions is the one devoted to the man who inspired Cézanne

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2013

He was calm and clear-eyed, with a rabbinical beard and a humble smile. Cézanne called him a “master” and “a father for me”; Renoir said he was a “revolutionary”. He was the only artist to exhibit at all eight Impressionist shows between 1874 and 1886, and he wrote the movement’s founding letter. Camille Pissarro deserves more attention than he tends to get.

He is best known for his quiet grassy paintings of the lush French countryside: big wholesome fields, fluttering leaves that whisper in the wind and scruffy haystacks in all shapes and sizes. But Pissarro also had a lifelong interest in the human condition, exceptional in a landscape painter.

Think of Cézanne, Monet or Sisley: their landscapes show barely any sign of human life. Unlike his younger peers, Pissarro (1830-1903) painted less than a handful of unpopulated scenes—and his figures are always well worth a look. Some stand at the forefront, impossible to ignore, like “The Haymaker”, 1884; others dissolve silently into the background. “The Cabbage Field, Pontoise”, 1873 (above), is a simple study of lights and darks, with no frills, no pretence. The brushstrokes are lively and the thick impasto catches the sunlight. The canvas is covered in more than 50 shades of green, apart from a tiny hunched figure in blue, easy to miss. But in each setting Pissarro places ordinary people in their ordinary environment and gives us just enough detail to understand the landscape through them. He presents an uncomplicated rustic world that bristles with real social observation. His paintings quiver with life.

Never afraid to experiment, he changed his approach more than any other artist in the Impressionist circle, and in his late sixties he turned to the city. In 1897 he rented a room at the Hôtel de Russie in Paris and produced a series of paintings looking down the Boulevard Montmartre. Different from his landscapes—less intimate, more rapid—they are nonetheless every bit as accomplished. Now, finally, we have an exhibition that attempts to restore his reputation as one of the path-finders of modern art. Unaccompanied by his peers, this is all about Pissarro.

Pissarro Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, June 4th to Sept 15th; Caixa Forum, Barcelona (dates TBC)

 

From The Economist, Intelligent Life Magazine, May-June 2013

 

PISSARRO–Madrid’s Exhibition–An Extraordinary Experience

Essen snowfall

Chemin des Creux, Louveciennes, Snow, 1872, PDR 219

Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

This incredibly beautiful Pissarro landscape from Louveciennes was one of the major highlights of PISSARRO, the exhibition at Museum Thyssen Bornemisza in Madrid. This reproduction, taken from the Museum Folkwang’s website does not do it justice. The weak winter sunlight provides little warmth on the gleaming white snow, with its shades of blue and pink. The deep shadows are delicate shadings of blues, grays, mauves. The old tree’s rotten center is filled with snow and your eye gets lost in the graceful tangle of small branches.

The entire exhibition, which began with Pissarro’s last self-portrait, was as carefully composed as one of his paintings–arranged chronologically, many times in pairs that enhanced the experience of each work. While the selection of 79 paintings included many well-known paintings, there were also some delightful surprises.

The museum’s own Route de Versailles was carefully paired with a similar painting from the High Museum in Atlanta. Two of Pissarro’s most beautiful paintings from London 1871 were together, the field near Sydenham Hill and Dulwich College. Two landscapes of l’Hermitage at Pontoise were similar locations but displayed strikingly different techniques. Another exceptionally wide painting of 1877 from Ottawa, Canada, displayed a composition that is sparse and modern-looking for its time.

A pair of very wide landscapes, two very different versions of the crooked apple tree in Pissarro’s orchard, similar views of the garden wall were among the paintings from Eragny.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the two paintings from Pitti Palace in Florence that I wrote about a few months ago. What a treat to see them again, this time close up and at eye level.

The city views featured two versions of Boulevard Montmartre paintings, the museum’s own Rue Saint-Honore paired with the same motif from Copenhagen. An exquisite selection of Rouen paintings featured the bridges, the Seine, the boats and the changeable weather.

Mind you, these galleries were not hushed and quiet, and people did not parade around the room in a slow shuffle like they usually do.  There was an excited buzz in the air as people looked first at one and then the other and then back again. Some visitors were going back into previous rooms to compare earlier and later works, or landscapes with cityscapes. Viewers were spending time in front of paintings, looking closely, walking up to see brushstrokes and back to embrace the unity.

Pissarro must be smiling.

PISSARRO’S PLACES is on sale in the bookstore of the PISSARRO exhibition in Madrid.  I had the honor of signing books for several people who bought them on the day I was there.  What a pleasure to meet each of them and share thoughts about Pissarro.

Readers of this blog can obtain a copy of PISSARRO’S PLACES at Amazon.com or the Barnes & Noble website.  A special price for friends of this blog is available at the book’s website:  http://www.pissarrosplaces.com.



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