Archive for October, 2020

Pissarro at Home in Paris

Jeanne Pissarro, Called Cocotte, Reading, 1899, PDRS 1297, Private collection.

Pissarro and his family spent the winter of 1899 in Paris on the rue de Rivoli, where he painted fourteen views of the Tuileries from his third floor window.1 At that time, he painted several still lifes of flowers and a few interiors featuring his 18-year-old daughter including this one, Jeanne Pissarro, Called Cocotte, Reading (1899) [PDRS 1297].

Jeanne is pictured in the rue de Rivoli apartment on a settee covered with a large red throw. She is almost in the center of the canvas, the painting seems somewhat unbalanced: the settee and a rug fill the left side; the space on the right is empty except for a chair positioned behind the sofa.  The right side of the canvas features the edge of a doorway allowing a glimpse into the room beyond.

This colorful painting is a plethora of patterns layered one on the other. Most dominant are the patterns of the red coverlet and the flowered rug. The chair on the right is covered in fabric of red and white, and in the room beyond is another colorful rug. Behind the settee, the walls are covered in textures of blue, grey, and pink, layered over with paintings in every possible space. Even the wooden floor is laid in a herringbone pattern. The overlaying of intense patterns in bright colors suggest what Henri Matisse would do a few years later in many of his paintings.

It is entirely possible that Matisse may have seen this painting of Jeanne. Hilary Spurling wrote that Matisse visited Pissarro regularly, “conducting an increasingly companionable dialogue with the older artist,”2 during this expedition and the following winter of 1899-1900 when Pissarro returned to rue de Rivoli for another series of the Tuileries.3

Henri Matisse, Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading), 1906, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Perhaps Matisse recalled this picture a few years later when he made a painting of his own daughter Marguerite, Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading) (1906). Behind the girl are vases of flowers and brightly tinted walls layered with paintings. The table, covered with blue and red figures seems to tilt forward.  

1 Pissarro and Durand=Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro: Catalogue Critique Des Peintures, 1:287-90.

2 Spurling, The Unknown Matisse, 178.

3 Ibid., 190.

I am honored that my latest book, Abstract Pissarro, was included in a review by David Carrier for Hyperallergic

Abstract Pissarro is available online at Bookshop, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Pissarro in Rouen

Rue de l’Epicerie in Rouen, Effect of Sunlight, 1898, Metropolitan Museum of Art, PDRS 1221

On his trip to Rouen in 1898, Pissarro made three paintings of the rue de l’Épicerie, one of Rouen’s oldest streets lined on each side by sixteenth-century gabled houses. A large open-air market on Fridays had been held continuously in that place since the thirteenth century. This painting shows the street at midmorning, bustling with shoppers and vendors. Though the towers of the Cathedral Notre-Dame appear at the top, little is seen of the south doorway which melds into the façade of nearby buildings. The center of the painting is full of long vertical brushstrokes heavy with paint which ignore any detail. Smaller buildings on either side are composed of flat blocks of paint stacked haphazardly in almost cubist fashion. The people filling the street are mere brushstrokes, clothed in various colors. While there is no clear focal point, the sheer verticality of the church towers, multi-storied buildings and movement of people in the street push the eye up and down again. Another painting of the same scene (not shown here) portrays a rainy morning with few people on the street.

Rue de l’Epicerie in Rouen, Late Afternoon, 1898. Private collection. PDRS 1223

Perhaps the most dramatic of the three paintings is Rue de l’Épicerie in Rouen, Late Afternoon (1898) showing deep shadows cast by the setting sun. With the few pedestrians relegated to the sidelines, Pissarro focused on the cobblestone street in the foreground, flattened buildings on each side providing framework. The doorway of the cathedral, a major focal point for other artists, is reduced to simple brushstrokes, suggesting the Gothic arches Pissarro so admired. Rushing from its portals are a series of color blocks on the cobblestones filling the foreground. The largest one, slabs of paint ranging from dark blue to gray, is nearly rectangular, extending from the cathedral door to the lower edge. A large triangle of red, dark orange, and tawny beige fills the lower-left corner. A similar segment lies to the right of the blue section. Slicing across the right corner is a small, bright-yellow triangle, shading into orange. The whole geometric effect is one of primary color blocks, giving importance to blue, bordered by reds, and accented by a touch of yellow— obviously the abstract pattern Pissarro wanted to highlight.

Chapelle de la Fierte de St. Romain, Rouen, photo by author, c. 2010

While making these three paintings, Pissarro may have stood on the steps of the Chapelle de la Fierte de St. Romain, a small elevated chapel built in 1542. According to legend, St. Romain saved Rouen from a monster with the help of a criminal. Beginning in 1210 on Ascension Day, the cathedral was allowed to release a prisoner who then carried the saint’s relics up to the chapel and raised them three times before the crowd of people. The practice ended in 1790 during the Revolution.

Rue de l’Epicerie, photo by author c. 2010

During World War II, many of the historic buildings on the street were destroyed. Miraculously, the historic chapel remained safe though the building behind it was damaged heavily. During the rebuilding process, the old marketplace became a public parking area and modern buildings now line the ancient street leading to the cathedral. Though much has changed, it is still possible to experience the general contour of the motif that Pissarro painted.

I am honored that my latest book, Abstract Pissarro, was included in a review by David Carrier for Hyperallergic

Abstract Pissarro is available online at Bookshop, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.


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