Posts Tagged 'Camille Pissarro'

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PISSARRO, born on JULY 10, 1830

1416 Le Pont-Neuf, Temps gris, 1902

The Pont-Neuf, Overcast Sky, 1902, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon (France) PDRS 1416

Just five days before his birthday in 1898, Pissarro visited the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. Could he have imagined then that this museum would have one of his masterpieces 100 years later? This painting of Pont-Neuf was made four years after his visit to Lyon. It was given to the museum in 2000 as part of the Sara Lee Corporation Millennium Gift.[1] It is the only Pissarro painting in their collection, according to museum staff.

He captured this view of the bridge from the window of his apartment on the Ile de la Cité in middle of the Seine. Though the weather is grey, there is a warmness to the painting from the subtle touches of ivory and pale coral. Flashes of red and blue along the storefronts provide an anchor for the tall buildings and diagonal sweep of the bridge. The grayness of the painting is tempered by the dark green of the river with its splashes of white. While traffic creates a busy scene, it cannot compare with the lively brushstrokes on the canvas. Those marks that our eyes see as people and carriages are, in fact, blobs and splashes of color skillfully applied as this detail shows. Seen on its own, it looks like abstract art.

close up

The Pont-Neuf, detail.

Though this painting came to the Lyon museum more than 100 years after Pissarro’s visit in 1898, there was plenty of good art for him to enjoy. He wrote his son Lucien from Lyon on July 5, 1898, that there was “a fine museum” with some “superb primitives, works by Tintoretto, Veronese, there is a Greco, there are things by Claude Lorrain, etc. . .” He even had plans to go back the next day to see some other works. “. . . in fact, it is the museum which interests me most.”[2]

When I visited the museum just 22 days ago, I had no idea I was following in Pissarro’s footsteps. I saw and took the time to study some of the same paintings he saw.

tintoretto

Danaë, Tintoretto, c. 1570

bathsheba

Bathsheba Bathing, Veronese, 1575

el greco lyon

El Expolio, El Greco, 1581-85.

What did Pissarro notice in these paintings, all made around the same time 300 years earlier? He was probably unimpressed by the strong narrative element in each of them since he did not favor storylines in his own paintings. But he must have noticed the use of light by each of the artists, particularly the “spotlight” in the Veronese and the El Greco. The bold use of red in each of the paintings might have caught his eye as he looked for (and found in each case) complementary greens (dark green of the maid’s towel in the Tintoretto and bluish green in Bathsheba’s covering in the Veronese).

With his keen eye for composition, Pissarro must have appreciated the strong diagonal of the Tintoretto created by the nude’s twisted position and repeated in the bend of her maid toward her. He must have noticed the inverted triangle in the Veronese with Bathsheba at the bottom, the old man towering over her and a male nude statue on the left. In the El Greco, Jesus is the focal point because of his center position and the brilliant light on his face, but the arrangement of figures in the crowd behind him may have interested Pissarro because of the many scenes he painted of busy market places.

What Pissarro did not see (nor did I) were visible brushstrokes. All of the surfaces were smooth as if color had magically flowed onto canvas. How different that is from the surface of Pissarro’s painting that hangs just a few galleries away (see the detail above). Pissarro was one of the first to celebrate and accentuate the visible brushstroke and the texture of thick paint on canvas—the materiality of art.

Knowing that Pissarro studied these 16th century masterpieces, it is easier to understand how futuristic his innovations were at the time, pushing toward what we now call abstract art.  In just 12 years, it will be time to celebrate his 200th birthday. Now is the time to take a new look at his paintings, acknowledge the innovations he used so boldly, and find new appreciation for all of his paintings, especially the ones that do not fit in the convenient Impressionist template so often used to judge his paintings.

[1] Sara Lee Corporation, which had a large collection of Impressionist masterpieces, gave 40 paintings valued at about $100 million to museums, most of them to U.S. museums.

[2] John Rewald, Camille Pissarro: Letters to His Son Lucien, 1995.

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Pissarro Afield- The Hills at Thierceville

1189 Thierceville Hills

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.

Pissarro – Studing a Rare Early Painting

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 3.20.01 PM

Paysage à La Varenne-Saint-Hilaire, 1863 Private collection, PDRS 72

 

The appearance of a Pissarro painting that has long been in private collections is always exciting.  It is even more compelling when it is an early painting because so few of these exist in Pissarro’s oeuvre. Those who study Pissarro know that in 1870 when Pissarro was 40 years old, the soldiers occupied his home and destroyed nearly everything he had created until then. (He and his family escaped, first to Brittany and then to London, for the duration of the war.)

Recently at the Spring Masters Show in New York, Gallery 19C of Los Angeles exhibited a beautiful early painting by Pissarro. There is no clue as to how this small painting (7 1/2 x 9 3/4”) on a wood panel was saved. If the soldiers had seen it, they probably would have added it to other fuel in the fireplace to heat the large house.

This painting is especially important because it helps track Pissarro’s early development. The works he produced as a young man in St. Thomas and Venezuela demonstrate that he was an accomplished artist and display the sunlight and bright colors he would later incorporate into Impressionism.

Pissarro came to France in 1855, just in time to see the works of Corot, Daubigny, and Courbet at the Exposition Universelle. While these artists were beginning to push against academic art, they still utilized the subdued browns and grays most admired by Salon painters.

Seemingly influenced by their example and probably feeling pressure from his father to enter a painting in the Salon, Pissarro abandoned the vivid reds and bright blues of his Caribbean paintings and began using more subdued colors like the browns, grays and dark greens in this painting. As if he just couldn’t contain himself, however, he paints the roof a bright blue and ties it to the red kerchief on one of the women below with white dabs of paint that might be flowers on the tree.

His inventiveness goes way beyond Corot, Daubigny, and Courbet, however, in the prominence of his brushstrokes and his use of color to create design. There are four basic elements in the painting—the brown earth, the silver blue of the river, the blackish green of the forest, and the gray sky.  The field in the foreground is represented with prominent horizontal brush strokes. The tiny strip of water would be almost indistinguishable except it is set off by small vertical green strokes suggesting foliage on the bank. The forest is composed of black and dark green blotches and the only clue we have that they are trees are the barely visible trunks. Brush strokes are most evident as paint on canvas in the sky where the swirls and globs display the movement of the bristles. The two buildings, constructed with blocks of vertical brushstrokes, are there merely to create perspective in the layers of color.

Imagine if you will that there is no field, no stream or sky, and that what you see are stripes of color separated by two vertical blocks with swirls at the top. It’s not so hard to do.

As a landscape, this is a little treasure—delightful and pleasant to see.  However, once you study it closely, you have to question if that was Pissarro’s intention.  Or did he simply use the  landscape as the basis for making abstract design with paint on canvas? 

WHEN PISSARRO MADE A PAINTING, NOT A PICTURE

The Rabbit-Warren at Pontoise 1879 The Art Institute of Chicago (IL) PDR 587

Rabbit-Warren at Pontoise 1879 The Art Institute of Chicago (IL) PDR 587

 

This finger-numbing winter scene was painted in 1879 atop a high hill in Pontoise. The coldness of the air is accentuated by the dark blue clouds  and the patches of heavy snow on the ground. The only hint of warmth is in the dull orange chimney pots on two houses.

Like many of Pissarro’s paintings, this one has no defined focal point. At the very center is a tiny sapling not large enough or important enough to draw our attention. The man gathering wood at the right is more of a caricature than a defined person. The stand of tall trees on the left are large, but their importance is diminished because we can see neither the top nor bottom of them.There are no rabbits, and the only evidence of a rabbit-warren is the large snow-covered mound on the side of the hill.

This picture is all about a diagonal line. The big trees bring our eyes to the ground where it begins its downward slope. If the man on the right were facing into the picture, he would define a stopping point.  However, he is facing out which suggests that the line continues past him, past the edge of the canvas into infinity. This gives us the feeling that we are slipping and sliding down the icy hill. This type of composition would have been radical, even during the Impressionist period ( generally considered to be 1872-1884).

This is not a picturesque snowy hill with snow layered in even brushstrokes. Pissarro uses small circular strokes of white interlaced with grey and blue for the snow and allows dark spiky undergrowth to break through its surface. The large dark patch in the left corner supports the large trees and an arrow-shaped dark patch near the center points downward toward the man. Even the houses and chimney pots reinforce the diagonal, from the left upper corner to the rooftops on the right side.

Even though we would call this an Impressionist landscape, there are many elements that define it as abstract: no focal point, strong geometrical composition, endless edges (going beyond the edge of the canvas), evident brushstrokes that call attention to the paint.  In fact, if isolated from the rest of the painting, the lower left quarter could be seen as an abstract painting.

Detail, Rabbit-Warren

Detail, Rabbit-Warren

These abstract elements are not uncommon among Pissarro’s works.  From the very beginning of his career in Paris, he celebrated the materiality of painting, making the painting itself as important as the scene.  It’s no wonder that Theodore Duret, an art critic, had written in 1870 that Pissarro “ … has painted a landscape without making a picture (emphasis added). Instead of making a lifelike image of this ordinary place, he used the view as inspiration to make an arrangement of paint on canvas.

PISSARRO IN THE AUTUMN OF HIS LIFE

Autumn at Eragny, 1900 Private collection PDR 1342

Autumn at Eragny, 1900
Private collection PDR 1342

As he had done in recent years, Pissarro once again moved his family to Paris In November of 1900 for the winter months. But before leaving É­­ragny, he made four paintings of the orchard behind his home.  When he converted his barn into a studio, he had a large window installed in the back wall (see photo) which allowed him to work without endangering his infection-prone eye.

Pissarro in his Studio at Eragny

Pissarro in his Studio at Eragny

At this time in his life, he was working tirelessly to make the paintings that he knew would provide income for his family after he was gone. From this point to his death on November 13, 1903, he made 186 more paintings. This one was inherited by his wife Julie who gave it to their son Paul-Emile Pissarro. It is now in a private collection in Luxembourg, according to the Pissarro catalogue raisonne (2005).

The heart of the splendid fall colors is found in the center of the tree just above the trunk (see detail). The splashes of yellow, orange and red are offset by dark emerald green fading into lighter yellows and greens that predominate in the background. Many of Pissarro’s landscapes have been likened to tapestries because of the way he wove his brushstrokes together. This is a perfect example of that technique. Magnification, as in the detail, shows the impasto or heavy layer of paint that actually forms little ridges on the surface. The texture of the painted areas captures light and intensifies the colors.

1342 Detail

While the tree with its brilliant leaves is the obvious focal point, it is set to the side revealing the countryside behind it. Pissarro divides the canvas into four distinct horizontal stripes, distinguished by differing directional textures. In the foreground, the darker green brushstrokes are short diagonals, some of them forming x marks. In the middle ground beyond the women, the strokes appear to be longer and more upright, with slight color differences creating horizontal rows. In the background beyond the fence, Pissarro suggests an upward slope by using vertical lines of trees that point to the stormy sky above. The flowing strokes of the clouds create a horizontal movement that completes the composition. The gray-blue-violet colors complement and intensify the yellows and oranges of the tree.

The overall question is: what is more important—the lovely rural scene captured in this painting or the design and texture which makes this painting so interesting? While Pissarro tells us it was painted at É­­ragny, the subject is hardly distinguished. It certainly has no importance as a landmark or historical place. In fact, if the fall colors were not so brilliant, there would be little to look at. Because Pissarro created such varied directional textures, we have to assume that he was more interested in the texture of the paint, the colors, the design—the abstract elements we value in contemporary paintings. This is why Pissarro was so far ahead of his time and why it is important that his paintings be valued for their abstract qualities.

PISSARRO – RAINY DAY IN PARIS

The Louvre, Afternoon, Rainy Weather  1900 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC PDR 1346

The Louvre, Afternoon, Rainy Weather 1900
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC PDR 1346

“The Louvre, Afternoon, Rainy Weather” was one of the first group of paintings Camille Pissarro made after he and his family moved to their new apartment on the Île de la Cité in November, 1900.  Formerly, a part of the collection of The Corcoran Gallery of Art, it has just been hung in its new home at the National Gallery of Art, ( West Building, Gallery M-89) Washington, DC. (See it on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nationalgalleryofart?fref=ts)

Among their Pissarro paintings, the National Gallery has two others made in Paris: “Boulevard des Italiens” (1897) and “Place du Carrousel, Paris” (1900), a view of the Louvre in the spring from his former apartment on Rue Rivoli. (See those on the website of the National Gallery of Art by searching for Camille Pissarro works.)

This paintings is obviously a view from the apartment’s front window because it includes a corner of the Place du Pont-Neuf where the statue of Henri IV is located. It appears that a rain storm has just passed, leaving the surface of the Place wet and shiny. Pissarro painted this same view many more times before his death in 1903, depicting it in every possible weather situation and with varying boat traffic in the river.

The composition of this painting is determined by the motif. The corner of the Place on the lower left side gives the painting a decidedly asymmetrical feel, suggesting an imaginary diagonal line pointing towards tthe Louvre in the middle right side. The two boats shown steaming toward the bridge suggest another imaginary diagonal from right lower corner to middle left side, forming an X across the painting. The bridge cuts across the diagonals virtually through the middle of the canvas, its severity softened by the graceful arches.  On the left, the curved branches of the  trees echo the arches.

The hand of the master is most evident in the surface of the Place and the water, each of them composed of countless brushstrokes. The shiny orange surface of the Place actually includes shades of coral, yellow, lavender, pink, white, and brick red. The complimentary dark blue of the woman’s dress intensifies the orangey tones. The choppy waters of the Seine are depicted in shades of gray, ranging from nearly white to dark slate. Tiny streaks of deep blue are complemented with pale dashes of dark orange.

This is one of Pissarro’s paintings that really must be seen in person—but then, wouldn’t we prefer to study all of them in person?

PISSARRO’S HAYSTACKS

Haystacks, Morning, Éragny 1899 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York   PDR 1282

Haystacks, Morning, Éragny
1899
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York PDR 1282

Camille Pissarro is not known for his haystacks, but perhaps he should be. According to the catalogue raisonne, he painted haystacks when he was only 26 years old—the year after he returned to France to pursue a career as an artist.

In the winter of 1898-99, Pissarro was financially comfortable enough to move his family to Paris for the winter. They stayed in an apartment on Rue Rivoli, no doubt a lot warmer than the old farmhouse at Éragny, and he painted splendid views of the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre.

In June, he and his family returned to their home at Éragny and he painted the “little nooks” he found around him.  He wrote his son Ludovic-Rodolphe, “It’s very beautiful here—you can make a masterpiece out of next to nothing,” and he did.

The deep green trees of midsummer dominate the space, but our eyes go to the three haystacks in the left foreground. As he usually does, Pissarro tells us the place and time of day. It’s morning, fairly early since the shadows are still long. You almost feel the heat of the sun baking the left side of the haystack turning the gold into myriad yellows, pinks, corals. On the other side, the purple shadow mutes those same colors. 

This is one of six haystack paintings he made that summer. In no way did Pissarro intend them to compete with Monet’s haystacks. Each of them is different in composition; some include a peasant woman, who sometimes naps at the base of the haystack.  He did do another one similar to this one, in the late afternoon. It would be fantastic to see these two side by side.

This wonderful painting is currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  If you can’t go see it in person, look at it on the Met’s website, which allows you to zoom in close and see every brushstroke.

http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/438738#fullscreen

The Camille Pissarro Catalogue Raisonne by Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts was published in 2005.

PISSARRO’S PLACES IN NEW YORK

Many thanks to the kind folks who came to the Dobbs Ferry and Harrison libraries a couple weeks ago

to hear my talk on PISSARRO’S PLACES.

It was delightful to talk with you afterward and sign your copies of PISSARRO’S PLACES.

*   *   *   *   *

PISSARRO’S PLACES

is available on the website:

www.pissarrosplaces.com

or at Amazon.

There is a special discount for

friends who visit the website.



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