Young Pissarro in Venezuela

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Mountain Landscape with a Hut c. 1854 Private Collection PDRS 5

Pissarro is known to most people as an Impressionist, but many of them do not realize that he was a professional artist in Venezuela, long before the advent of the Impressionist movement.

He was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands in 1830 and at the age of 12, his parents sent him to boarding school in Passy, then a suburb of Paris, where he learned to draw. When he returned from France to St. Thomas in 1847, Pissarro took his place in the family business but spent much of his time drawing whatever was in front of him—sailing ships in the harbor, tropical landscapes, and people at work and leisure. In May 1851, he met the painter Fritz Melbye, who was commissioned by the Danish government to record the flora and fauna of the Danish Antillas and Central America.

Melbye was impressed by the expertise and vitality of the younger man’s drawings and convinced Pissarro to accompany him to Caracas, Venezuela, where they established an art studio and sold paintings.

Pissarro’s landscape, Mountain Landscape with a Hut (c. 1854) shows just how sophisticated he was as an artist at the age of 24. It is a complex composition, employing a series of diagonal lines, a technique Pissarro used throughout his career. The indistinct foliage in the left corner provides a small diagonal from the foot of the tree to the rocks. The second diagonal may be drawn from the top of the tree on the left to the crest of the two palm trees on the right. All of that leads up to the most dramatic diagonal, the right slope of what is probably Mt. Avila, which Pissarro and Melbye climbed in July, 1854. To make sure the steepness of the mountain is noticed, Pissarro pierces the diagonal line with a white wispy cloud.  The small hut on level ground surrounded by figures provides safety and stability in these precipitous surroundings, and Pissarro focuses attention on it with warm sunlight.

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