Archive for October, 2015

MORE….PISSARRO IN VIENNA

Rue de Gisors - 1868 Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

Rue de Gisors – 1868
Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

Never before have I written two posts about the same painting. But this one from Vienna is more puzzling that it appears. Even in his earliest days as an artist, Pissarro was more interested in using paint on canvas than he was in creating a what most people thought was the perfect picture.  The previous post discussed the strange composition which would have been easy if only it did not include that odd blank space and sliver of a house on the left.

But that isn’t the only unusual thing—Pissarro seemed to be using the large spaces to demonstrate  that brushstrokes can differentiate areas even when colors are almost the same. The predominant color in this painting is the yellowish beige of the houses and walkways.  The clouds and hills are various shades of gray blue, and only the dark green grass in the lower left corner is markedly different.

The grass is composed of large horizontal brush strokes, seemingly with a wide brush. The tiny furrows made by the stiff bristles are very evident from the bottom of the canvas to the vanishing point at the distant blue hillside. There is no difference in intensity or color in the grass of the foreground and that at the vanishing point.

The walkway beside the road seems to have been painted with a smaller brush and more delicate strokes that form very shallow arches. In the foreground the path appears to be a bit lighter than at the horizon line, but the major clue to perspective is the narrowing of the path. 

The road cuts a diagonal swath across the canvas from the right corner to the horizon line, with a shallow walkway on the other side that ultimately disappears. The light on the roadway is directly opposite that on the walkway, appearing darker in the foreground and lighter toward the vanishing point. The brushstrokes on the road are also delicate but are different in shape from those of the path. They appear to be short wavy lines that are slightly diagonal.

The construction of the houses are suggested with pale blue gray blocks  on the pale yellow-beige walls. There is no attempt to paint realistic shutters. They are simply rough perpendicular strokes that are not always aligned. 

The cloudy sky gives Pissarro more opportunities for varied brush strokes. The clouds near the hilltop appear soft with circular strokes. The dark gray clouds at the top are also composed of circular strokes.  The very white clouds in the center seem more ferocious than the dark ones because they are composed of wide brushstrokes in a herringbone pattern.

It seems that Pissarro was using this painting almost like a “sampler” to show that the type of strokes can create important differences in various areas even when the colors are very similar. This canvas shows that he is as interested in the textures the paint creates as he is in recording a picture of a specific place.

The biggest puzzle of all, however, is the woman in the black dress at the left.  She is almost hidden in the shadows, and we would not notice her except for her white petticoat. Who is she? Why is she on the grass instead of the walkway? Why is she there at all? The painting would accomplish the same thing even if she were not there. It calls attention to this strange little group including the tiny little house, the row of three saplings and the woman. What do they mean? We will never know, but we do know that Pissarro often places elements in his paintings that cannot be explained.  It is part of the charm in looking closely at his paintings.

PISSARRO IN VIENNA

Rue de Gisors - 1868 Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

Rue de Gisors – 1868
Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

 

Pissarro made several paintings on the Rue de Gisors in Pontoise, but this one is unlike any of the others.  He painted it during his first stay in Pontoise before the beginnings of Impressionism.

The paintings he made of this street after the Franco-Prussian war show a different part of the street, a high traffic area looking towards the center of town.  This view appears to be the other end the street, looking toward a faraway hill.  At this point, he was still using black in his paintings, as shown by the woman in the black dress on the left. The colors appear to be dark, but this may be simply the an accumulation of residue from more than a hundred years ago.

This painting is one of the few surviving paintings made by Pissarro that date before 1872, the end of the Franco-Prussian War.  During 1870-71, Pissarro fled with his family, first to Brittany and then to London, where he stayed until the war was over.  While he was gone, his home in Louveciennes was used by Prussian soldiers to house their horses and soldiers. They used his canvases to butcher animals and to cover mud in the garden. At that time, he was in his early 40s, and nearly all of his life’s work was destroyed.  Only about 30 paintings survive from those early days.

This painting provides a special insight into Pissarro’s art before Impressionism. I had a chance to see this painting recently in Vienna and here is a little bit of what I learned. His painting was already radical. The composition focuses on the wide cobblestone street with walkways on either side which appears to go downhill. The buildings on the right side of the street are typical and are very much like buildings on that street today. It is the left side of the composition that is so curious. Beside the road on the left is a tiny house partially hidden behind a row of slender trees. In photographs, it is difficult to see the roofline behind the trees, but in person, it is barely visible. To the left is an open space showing sky and then a tiny sliver of another building. If the little trees had been on the left edge of the canvas, the composition would have looked very ordinary. As it is, your attention is drawn to the empty space instead. Other people in the painting seem to be doing something or going somewhere, but the mysterious woman in the black dress is just standing there on the grass. We might not notice her except for the white ruffle on her dress.

There is much more in this painting that is radical for its time, and I will write more about it in another post.



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