Archive for March, 2020

PISSARRO – In the Midst of Turmoil

#Pissarro #CamillePissarro #Paris #Dreyfus #anti-Semitism #epidemic #rabbi #Jewish #EmileZola #J’Accuse #GrandeHotelduLouve #Durand-Ruel #LucienPissarro #FelixPissarro #Hausmann #AbstractPissarro #PissarrosPlaces

Place du Théâtre-Français and the Avenue de l’Opéra

Place du Théâtre-Français and the Avenue de l’Opéra, Sunlight, Winter Morning, 1898, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rheims, France, PDRS 1202

Paris, January 1898 – A terrible epidemic as contagious as the virus rampant in the world today—anti-Semitism–was sweeping through all of France.  It divided families, ended long-standing friendships, and sowed seeds of hate and distrust. The Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish army officer was falsely accused, had mobs in the street. When Émile Zola published his “J’accuse!”, Pissarro sent him a letter assuring him of his support: “Know that I am amongst those who think that you have just rendered a fine service to France…” He also signed a petition in favor of Dreyfus in the newspaper L’Aurore.

Pissarro never tried to conceal his Jewish roots though he was a non-practicing Jew and an atheist. Above all, he was a committed anarchist. With his deep-set eyes and long white beard, he even looked like a rabbi. In his rooms at the Grande Hôtel du Louvre in the center of Paris, he was in the midst of the uproar as riotous crowds gathered every evening. On the 18th of January, he ventured out into the gathering mob to see his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. He wrote to Lucien about the experience: “Yesterday, while I was making my way along the boulevards to Durand’s at five o’clock, I found myself in the midst of a band of little scamps followed by ruffians shouting: “Death to the Jews!  Down with Zola!” I passed calmly through them to the rue Laffitte, they didn’t even take me for a Jew!” While Pissarro reports his good fortune in getting there safely, he obviously was aware of the imminent danger. There was little relief during Pissarro’s Paris stay. In February, he wrote: “Things have hardly improved.”

On top of the anxiety produced by the very real danger, Pissarro was still grieving for his son Félix who had just died on November 25 and was buried where he died in London. How did Pissarro cope? How did he make some of the most beautiful paintings of his entire life? At one point, he wrote: “Work is a wonderful regulator of mind and body. I forget all sorrow, grief, bitterness, and I even ignore them altogether in the joy of working.”  So he poured himself into this series of paintings, creating the masterpiece featured here.

It must have been early morning because the sunlight streaming on the buildings is especially golden and the blue shadows are still deep. Even though the majestic new opera house at the end of the avenue was already an important landmark, it is merely a shadow. Likewise, the new Hausmann buildings are sketched with few details to catch the eye. Instead, the deep shadows direct the view to the large patch of sunlight not in the center of the canvas, but well to the left, where there is almost nothing. While other artists made pictures featuring things of importance or beauty, Pissarro made paintings that pose questions and engage the intellect. This was Pissarro’s genius. And while acknowledging all that was taking place around him, he was able to continue his work creating this masterpiece.

To all those who read this blog, stay safe and be well.





Pissarro in Cleveland

#Pissarro #ClevelandMuseumofArt #KeithleyGift #Dieppe #Fishmarket #quaiDuquesne #Pissarro’sPlaces #AbstractPissarro

1439 The Fish Market, Dieppe 1902

The Fish Market, Dieppe, 1902, Cleveland Museum of Art, PDRS 1439

Camille Pissarro’s wonderful painting, The Fish Market, Dieppe (1902) [PRDS 1439] is now in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, thanks to a monumental gift of numerous paintings valued at more than $100 million by Joseph P. and Nancy F. Keithley. The CMA already has two other Pissarro paintings, both from the 1870s, so this addition from the artist’s later works adds important depth to their collection.

This is one of twenty-one views of Dieppe that Pissarro made during his second visit to the city. He arrived in early July 1902 and stayed until the end of September, returning to the Hôtel du Commerce for lodging. To vary his choice of motifs, he rented a different room at 7 Arcades de la Poissonnerie to use as a studio, which gave him views of the harbor, the fish market, and the quai Duquesne in both directions. This painting shows the open-shed fish market which was practically beneath Pissarro’s window. The antique postcard shows the fish market and behind it, the arcade where Pissarro painted his views of the harbor. Just to the right of the fish market were railroad tracks for the train from Rouen which had its terminus on the quai. In another painting, Pissarro showed the arrival of the train with crowds of people lining the tracks. Unfortunately, the train no longer comes into the heart of Dieppe, and that large space has been filled with flower beds.

Postcard - Fish Market

Antique postcard of Dieppe, showing the railroad tracks, the fish market, and the arcades where Pissarro painted.

Arcades de la Poissonnerie, Dieppe

On the right, the Arcades de la Poissonnerie where Pissarro had his studio, Dieppe

Pissarro’s location in the window of the arcade limits his composition choices in this painting and the one with the train. This particular view, looking directly down and to his left, offered him little leeway in arranging pictorial elements. Maybe that is why he made only two paintings of this particular view, obviously preferring to paint the more spacious port areas busy with boats of all sizes and descriptions.

It is hard to determine if the crowd of people in front of the fish market are there in early morning to buy fresh fish or if they are awaiting the arrival of the train. In the center of the painting just above the edge of the crowd is indication of a faint circular line, marked by tiny strokes that may represent people, which may be the railroad tracks. This is easily verified when the two paintings are side-by-side. It is a particular phenomenon in Pissarro’s paintings that very often in the center of the painting, there is simply nothing. And this is one of them; all the action is happening around the center which is empty. Just above the center of the canvas, Pissarro depicts the row of houses that line quai Duquesne as flat blocks with no volume. One steeply pitched red roof seems to draw the eye back to the fish market below. The spindly masts and dark sails of the boats on the right struggle to balance the large building and crowd on the left. Perhaps that is why Pissarro placed a puff of dark smoke above the boats. Since it is similar in color to the roof of the market, it creates a diagonal that pulls the eye upward and to the right of the canvas. The dark smoke could well have been present since some of the steamboats that plied the English Channel also had sails, as Pissarro showed in other paintings from this series.

This Pissarro painting looks simple at first glance, but as is frequently the case with Pissarro, it turns out to be more complicated and far more interesting in a closer look. Pissarro obviously enjoyed the city, writing: “Dieppe is a wonderful place for a painter who likes life, movement, colors.”


In order to share information and insights about Pissarro, I am establishing an email mailing list. I’d like to hear your feedback and what you have learned about Pissarro’s paintings.  To join, please write me at –Ann Saul, art writer and administrator of

ABSTRACT PISSARRO, the book that shows how Pissarro planted the seeds of abstract art in the mid 1850s, is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.

PISSARRO’S PLACES, the book that explores the places Pissarro painted (including Dieppe), is also available on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.




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