The Hills at Thierceville, 1897, Private Collection PDRS 1189
When Pissarro returned home in mid-July 1897 after two months of caring for his ill son Lucien in London, he painted his garden and the meadow at his Èragny home. One day, he took his easel and walked a mile and a half northwest of Èragny to the hills surrounding the village of Thierceville.
In this place, unlike his enclosed garden and tree-lined meadow, he found complete openness—just the earth and the sky. The only trees were far away. The haystacks on the left suggest that some of the fields had been harvested. But it appears that Pissarro set his easel in the midst of an uncut field.
The long green and yellow brushstrokes fill the foreground beginning at the lower left corner and forming an ascending diagonal line to the right edge. The area with the haystacks is mostly green and horizontal brushstrokes give it an appearance of smoothness. To the right, a shepherd and a flock of sheep occupy a yellow patch of ground that echoes the diagonal beneath it. Surrounding them are other patches of land, dark green, light green, salmon and another patch with long green brushstrokes. In the distance behind the haystacks are rows of dark green trees and other hillsides. The sky reinforces the perspective with tiny clouds just above the distant hills turning into larger more colorful clouds up close.
Though this is a pleasant scene, it offers no dramatic focal point—an important object or person. It teaches no lesson nor does it promote any cause. This is one of those paintings about which Pissarro said, “. . . the eye of the passerby is too hasty and sees only the surface. Whoever is in a hurry will not stop for me.”
So if we are to understand why Pissarro painted this picture as he did, perhaps we should listen to his own words. “I see only spots of color. When I begin a painting, the first thing I try to put down is the accord.” When Pissarro looked at this field, he did not necessarily see fields of grain with haystacks and sheep. He saw blocks of color—robust green brushstrokes set against smoother linear areas in pale green, yellow and salmon. Above that a vivid contrast in texture and color—vigorous circular strokes in shades of white and lavender.
What happens in a painting when color and brushstroke are more important than haystacks and a flock of sheep? If we dare to compare this painting with many of those made half a century later, we might conclude that this painting is close to abstract. Considering it this way, even the most casual observer might be willing to stop and examine it more closely.