We thought we knew the Impressionist, Camille Pissarro. But the exhibition, Pissarro’s People curated by Richard Brettell, has expanded our notions about this radical artist. While the exhibition will close in less than a week, the concept and ideas it communicated are broadened in the superb exhibition catalog.
The painter, better known for his lyrical and sometimes puzzling landscapes, continues to surprise anyone who thinks his works are “just pretty pictures.” Never more so than in this powerful collection of figure paintings that range from his earliest career to the end of his days. He painted friends and neighbors busy at everyday tasks in the fields and orchards or selling produce at outdoor markets in Pontoise and Gisors. All are portrayed just as they are, with honesty and respect.
There is a part of Pissarro that none of us knew very well. He was an anarchist, who was disturbed by the problems he saw in capitalism. To share his beliefs with his grown nieces, Pissarro made drawings of shameful situations in the society of his time. His son Lucien bound them in a book called Turpitudes Sociales. The book has reproductions of these drawings, and now we can see what worried him. Unfortunately, many of those same things still worry us.
Much more than a catalogue, the book introduces us to part of Pissarro that we did not know before. We realize what a complex person he was and begin to understand how that is reflected in his art. The book is engaging, thought-provoking, and an enjoyable read.
Most often, Pissarro’s paintings receive easy categorization and hasty analysis. But this book clearly indicates that his work deserves much more—a closer look for universal truth.