PISSARRO AT SOTHEBY’S LONDON

#Pissarro #Sotheby’s #Pointillism #London #Impressionist #1888 #Durand-Ruel  #Levy #Nazi #Orsay #Monoprix

857 Gelee Blanche, Jeune Paysanne Faisant du Feu 1888

Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu, 1888, Private collection, PDRS 857

This spectacular painting by Pissarro was the star at Sotheby’s recent Impressionist sale in London.  It sold for $17.3 million, reportedly the second highest price ever paid for a Pissarro painting.

The painting focuses on the young girl and the long stick she is breaking to feed the blazing fire. The stick reaches almost to the top of the canvas, and its bend is reflected in the opposing curve of the girl’s body. This together with the boy’s figure creates what would be a very traditional pyramid composition except for the smoke pulling the eye away from the center to the right. The cows in the background echo the movement as they meander in the same direction.

But the interesting composition pales in comparison with the multitudes of tiny Pointillist brushstrokes in juxtaposing colors. Would the girl’s skirt be blowing so briskly without the different shades of red, purple and orange? Would the smoke billow so thickly without the dots of white, gray, and blue? The orange-yellow and pale blue-lilac horizontal stripes of the field are crisp with frost because of the precise division of color. Pissarro worked on this painting for about a year, and immediately sold it to Durand-Ruel.

In 1930, the painting was sold to collector Gaston Lévy, co-founder of what would become Monoprix, the French supermarket chain. He fled the Nazis in 1940, and this painting was confiscated. After the end of the war,  it was found in a private collection, and the French government seized it. It was then assigned to the Musée d’Orsay from 2000 to 2018 when it was restituted to Lévy’s heirs. (For more on this story see Antiques Trade Gazette: https://www.antiquestradegazette.com/news/2020/recovered-works-top-sotheby-s-modern-art-auction/

This painting is a perfect example of what Pointillism can be—full of light, color and movement. Too often Pointillist paintings feel static, as if there is no air. This painting breathes. It is vibrant and energetic as the girl rushes to break the stick, the wind blowing her skirt and the smoke. It is truly one of Pissarro’s greatest masterpieces.

 

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