PISSARRO IN THE AUTUMN OF HIS LIFE

Autumn at Eragny, 1900 Private collection PDR 1342

Autumn at Eragny, 1900
Private collection PDR 1342

As he had done in recent years, Pissarro once again moved his family to Paris In November of 1900 for the winter months. But before leaving É­­ragny, he made four paintings of the orchard behind his home.  When he converted his barn into a studio, he had a large window installed in the back wall (see photo) which allowed him to work without endangering his infection-prone eye.

Pissarro in his Studio at Eragny

Pissarro in his Studio at Eragny

At this time in his life, he was working tirelessly to make the paintings that he knew would provide income for his family after he was gone. From this point to his death on November 13, 1903, he made 186 more paintings. This one was inherited by his wife Julie who gave it to their son Paul-Emile Pissarro. It is now in a private collection in Luxembourg, according to the Pissarro catalogue raisonne (2005).

The heart of the splendid fall colors is found in the center of the tree just above the trunk (see detail). The splashes of yellow, orange and red are offset by dark emerald green fading into lighter yellows and greens that predominate in the background. Many of Pissarro’s landscapes have been likened to tapestries because of the way he wove his brushstrokes together. This is a perfect example of that technique. Magnification, as in the detail, shows the impasto or heavy layer of paint that actually forms little ridges on the surface. The texture of the painted areas captures light and intensifies the colors.

1342 Detail

While the tree with its brilliant leaves is the obvious focal point, it is set to the side revealing the countryside behind it. Pissarro divides the canvas into four distinct horizontal stripes, distinguished by differing directional textures. In the foreground, the darker green brushstrokes are short diagonals, some of them forming x marks. In the middle ground beyond the women, the strokes appear to be longer and more upright, with slight color differences creating horizontal rows. In the background beyond the fence, Pissarro suggests an upward slope by using vertical lines of trees that point to the stormy sky above. The flowing strokes of the clouds create a horizontal movement that completes the composition. The gray-blue-violet colors complement and intensify the yellows and oranges of the tree.

The overall question is: what is more important—the lovely rural scene captured in this painting or the design and texture which makes this painting so interesting? While Pissarro tells us it was painted at É­­ragny, the subject is hardly distinguished. It certainly has no importance as a landmark or historical place. In fact, if the fall colors were not so brilliant, there would be little to look at. Because Pissarro created such varied directional textures, we have to assume that he was more interested in the texture of the paint, the colors, the design—the abstract elements we value in contemporary paintings. This is why Pissarro was so far ahead of his time and why it is important that his paintings be valued for their abstract qualities.

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