Archive for January, 2015

Readers Like You

Camille Pissarro in his studio

Camille Pissarro in his studio

People from all over the world visit to read about Pissarro and his amazing paintings. On January 9, 13 viewers clicked on the blog and read 177 posts!

Since the Pissarro exhibition in Wuppertal, there have been a large number of viewers from Germany.

Yesterday, there were 12 viewers who read a total of 46 posts.  Most of them were from Uzbekistan.

Pissarro would be so pleased that you are interested in his work. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions. Please feel free to write me anytime.

Thank you so much for your visits!

Ann Saul (


Today’s viewers are from the United States, Brazil, Mongolia, South Africa, and France.

Welcome to the Pissarro blog at


The Dieppe Railway 1886 PDR 828 Philadelphia Museum of Art Philadelphia, PA

The Dieppe Railway
1886 PDR 828
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia, PA

Pissarro painted The Dieppe Railway in 1886, following the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition in which he showed his Pointillist works. You have to look closely to even see the train, just to left of the canvas center. The train itself is not important—it is simply there as a reference point in a composition of geometric shapes and color blocks. In many of his paintings, Pissarro used sketchy trees and figures to make what are essentially abstract compositions look more like familiar scenes.

Some 25 years later (around 1911), Pablo Picasso who created Cubism, talked about including familiar objects in his abstract paintings, calling them “attributes,” to characterize the subject matter. He said, “The attributes were the few points of reference designed to bring one back to visual reality, recognizable to anyone.”*

While the actual location of this painting is not important, I believe this scene was near the Éragny railroad station just across the highway from his home. This current photograph shows the railroad track, the contours of the fields, and the same blue hills in the distance.

Eragny train7

We usually expect a painting to show something important or at least something pretty, but there is not much distinctive about this particular space. Rather than a typical subject, Pissarro chose these oddly-shaped color fields.

In the large foreground, he created a golden field with points of color, ranging from light yellow to gold, coral to red, and a bit of light green. To the right is an odd shape composed of green and dark blue spots, flecked with a little gold. It is obviously a shadow but we do not know its origin (possibly the old train station that is no longer there but appears in historic postcards). The green fields in the distance, made of light and dark green dots, are edged with golden fields of the same intensity as the foreground. Even the distant hills are blue dots of different shades mixed with ivory flecks. The cloudy sky absorbs the ivory points and mixes them with dots of yellow and coral. Above the clouds, light blue dots fill the top of the canvas with blue.

Pissarro must have made this painting as a showcase for Pointillism and fields of color. The composition and use of paint are far more important than the picture of the train. When we look at this painting today, we can say it is virtually abstract—Pissarro couldn’t do that.  In 1886, the word abstract had not yet been used in relation to art.

*Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection (2013) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 139


THE FOREST 1870  PDR 172 Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

1870 PDR 172
Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

In May 1870, two of Pissarro’s pictures were chosen to be exhibited with hundreds of paintings by other artists in the Paris Salon. Their titles, “Autumn” and “Landscape,” are pretty general, so art historians have not been able to definitively determine which of Pissarro’s paintings they were. (Critical Catalog, 2005) In fact, they may not have survived the ransacking of Pissarro’s home during the Franco-Prussian war later that year.

Those paintings must have been impressive, however, since they attracted the attention of highly-regarded art critics of the day. Comments by one of them, Theodore Duret writing for L’Electeur Libre, are particularly interesting. 

Duret wrote, “For him (Pissarro), the landscape on the canvas must be a faithful and exact transposition of a natural scene, the portrait of some corner of the world that actually exists. […] But while we grant the theory according to which Pissarro evidently proceeds, we cannot help remarking that, in observing it too strictly, where nature itself is so unpicturesque that the artist has painted a landscape without making a picture.”  (The italics and bold are mine.)

Pissarro was already known as a painter true to nature and Duret’s reference to “portrait of some corner of the world” is apt. However, the critic says that Pissarro observes this practice so carefully, depicting everyday scenes, that his paintings are “unpicturesque” or not pretty! Too bad we cannot see the exact painting he wrote about.

However, there are several paintings from that period in Pissarro’s work that illustrate Duret’s point.  “The Forest” provides a good example.  At first glance, it appears to be a horizontal rectangle of green, or several shades of green. Then we notice the sunlight on large tree trunks and cottages on the left. Only after looking closely, do we discover a bending woman in the left foreground. Is she picking up nuts from the trees? Almost by accident we discover people under a tree on the right. Are there two, or three, or four? There is no statue or important building, no famous person; nor does it depict a historic event or a mythical story. It would be hard to create a story about it.The scene is pleasant enough, but not memorable. Is this what Duret meant?

Apparently, this little corner of the world appealed to Pissarro for different reasons. He saw much more than thick leaves, dense tree trunks, and firm ground. In making the painting, he gives us no focal point to draw our attention. He crowds the trees together as if they are all pushing to the front. There is no sense of space or “breathing room” in the picture.  Except for a tiny corner of blue, there is no sky.

Pissarro was not painting a grove of trees. He was arranging contrasts — color (yellows and greens) and paint ( thin and thick), brushstrokes (heavy and light) and patterns (dark and bright). He balanced it so carefully that we see the whole, not the parts.

Duret might not have called this landscape a picture, but it is an intriguing painting just the same. In more recent years, we have grown accustomed to works by Picasso, Klee, and Pollock that contain blocks of color, light and dark contrasts, and all-over design. Now we are able to understand what Pissarro was doing in 1870.

Abstract art had not been invented then, but Pissarro already had the eye of an abstract painter.


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