Posts Tagged 'Camille Pissarro'


The Garden de Maubuisson, Pontoise, Sunshine  1876

Philadelphia (PA) The Barnes Foundation       PDR 440

Tucked in among the largest collection of Renoirs in the world andkeeping company with an enormous group of Cezannes is one painting by Camille Pissarro.   Dr. Alfred C. Barnes, a medical doctor who made his fortune in the pharmaceutical industry, became interested in collecting the art of his time. According to the film at the Barnes Foundation, he sent his good friend and prominent Philadelphia artist (member of “The Eight”), William Glackens to Paris with $20,000 to buy paintings to begin his collection. This Pissarro was one of the 20 paintings that Glackens broughtback.

Camille Pissarro painted this garden scene in the Hermitage neighborhood of Pontoise in 1876.  Even today, it seems every home in the Hermitage has its own kitchen garden or orchard stretching down the hill behind the house. It looks like Pissarro set up his easel at the bottom of the hill and allowed the roofs of the houses to describe the hill’s steep incline. The colors in the painting are a textbook example of Impressionism. The lush greens of the vegetable plots in the foreground transition to yellow green of the leaves and then to the rich turquoise of the sky. The peachy pathways reflect the red roofs on the hill.

At first glance, the composition seems to be perfectly symmetrical—something Pissarro rarely did.  (It’s a mistake to say never about anything involving Pissarro since he frequently surprises you.)

The vertical path leads us to the focal point, an upright stone with two large stones at its base.  A womanin a white hat stands to the side. Rows of small trees (probably apple or pear trees) on each side lead straight back to the upright object and they are flanked by two rectangular green patches. But wait! If this is truly symmetrical, wouldn’t the focal point be in the center of the canvas? In fact, it is just to the left of center, creating an interesting tension and lifting the composition out of the ordinary.

Now you can see this gorgeous Pissarro in the Barnes Foundation collection.  But if you go, be aware that the Barnes REQUIRES RESERVATIONS –available by phone or online.  Check their website for full information (click on the link above).


Cows Watering in the Pond at Montfoucault 1875

Birmingham (UK) Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham  PDR 428

Montfoucault was Pissarro’s refuge, his safe haven.  The large country estate in the Mayenne, home of Pissarro’s artist friend Ludovic Piette, was the place where Pissarro could take his family in times of trouble and need.  He made five visits there painting the secluded countryside in springtime, fall and winter.

This autumn painting features a small herd of cows drinking at the edge of the pond, tended by a peasant woman. The bucolic scene is framed by the large forked tree on the left and another big tree on the right. We can almost feel the warmth of the autumn sun that reflects on the backs of the three red cows. The space is shared by a flock of geese bathing in the pond’s center. This version was painted on site, but it became the model for another larger painting completed later the same year in Pissarro’s studio.

Below is a photograph of Pissarro’s pond taken on a sunny spring day. Beside it is a large plaque, one of twelve erected at Montfoucault by the nearby town of Lassay les Chateaux. You can walk around the estate and see similar plaques showing the sites of paintings by Piette and Pissarro, including Piette’s home and nearby fields and pastures. (The tourist office in Lassay les Chateaux will give you directions to Montfoucault.)

 Pond at Montfoucault [Photo by Paul Climance)

While you are in Lassay les Chateaux, take time to see the largest historic chateau, originally built in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 14th century after destruction during the Hundred Years War. It still has its eight massive towers, ramparts, barbican and a working drawbridge. [] [] The photos are by Paul Climance, local historian in Lassay-les-Chateaux.

 Medieval chateau at Lassay-les-Chateaux [Photo by Paul Climance]



Misty Morning at Creil, 1873 Camille Pissarro

Pissarro used realistic elements to create scenes that now appear almost abstract, as demonstrated by the comparison of Misty Morning at Creil, 1873, with Rothko’s Untitled, 1969. Certainly color field paintings were unimaginable in the vocabulary of the Impressionists, but from the current post-abstract perspective, the similarities in the two paintings are apparent.


Untitled, 1969  Mark Rothko

The simple reading of the Pissarro painting is that of a common landscape, depicting a condition of weather.  All of the Impressionists were interested in portraying various types of weather on the canvas, and many of them painted fog or mist in scenes similar to Pissarro’s.  However, most of these artists provided some kind of recognizable focal point to draw the eye.

In Misty Morning, the eye searches for an important focal point, and settles instead on the complementary contrast of the sky and land, two distinct color fields. The dusty blue sky with orange-shaded undertones is surprisingly similar to the top of the Rothko, which is also a dusty blue with shades of orange peeking through the brushstrokes.

The lower half of the Pissarro is not a solid color field like that of the Rothko, but the overall impression is similar.  In the foreground, Pissarro uses the orange-shaded color to depict the muddy ground. Near the crest of the hill, a silvery white frost covers the ground creating an effect similar to that in the lower half of the Rothko.

The elements that add realism and set the Pissarro apart from the Rothko are the images on the horizon. Just right of center is a dark blotch that represents several trees along with shadowy figures. In the center left is another shadowy tree image. While a landscape by another artist might use these figures as a focal point, Pissarro makes them dissolve into the background. The trees are dark blue and the covering mist erases any detail of structure that might grab the eye’s attention. Instead, the trees serve as a simple division between the contrasting colors of the sky and ground.

The use of human figures tends to draw the eye, but here Pissarro has minimized their importance. The color of the woman’s upper garment blends with the trees while her skirt is the same color as the ground. The man is practically invisible, with a cap the color of the trees and clothing that fades into the background.  There may or may not be another shadowy figure farther up the hill.

The obvious effort that Pissarro made to blend the people and trees into the background suggests that they are not to be considered focal points. The obvious point of interest is the complementary contrast between the sky and ground, two color fields only slightly more complicated than those depicted in the Rothko painting.

One might say that Pissarro just painted the scene as he saw it, and that he did not “intentionally” paint something that today can be compared to Rothko’s color fields. While Pissarro would not have used the same vocabulary, he certainly was striving for different effects throughout his career. To accept the obvious in his paintings is to miss the point of his work. It is only on close scrutiny that his genius is recognized.


Quai de Paris and the Pont Corneille, Rouen, Sunshine

1883, Philadelphia Museum of Art, PDR 727

 Pissarro’s paintings often leave us with unanswered questions; that’s part of the allure of his artistry. We might not notice the shining arch on the left over the bridge if the sail of the red boat did not point to it. In reality, it is not what it seems or what we might imagine.

There’s plenty to look at in this sun-drenched painting made by Pissarro in the fall of 1883 during his first painting expedition to Rouen. During this visit, he walked to his locations on both sides of the Seine, carrying his easel on his back.  He wrote his son Lucien, “I began a motif on the edge of the river [actually the quai de Paris on the right bank] moving up towards the church of Saint-Paul; looking towards Rouen, you have on the right all the houses on the quays lit up by the morning sun, in the background the pont de Pierre (Pont Corneille), on the left the island [the Île Lacroix] with its houses, factories, boats, rowing-boats on the right, a cluster of big barges of all colours.”

The right lower quadrant of this painting is filled with heavy objects–buildings and barges. The rest of the painting is dominated by the lightness of sky and water. Yet the painting feels perfectly balanced. That’s the genius of Pissarro.

We are standing on the quai, along with two men at the canvas’s right edge.  Our eyes follow the sweeping curve of the riverside to the buildings and back across the bridge. Just before we reach the other side, this shining thing appears.  It’s not part of the clouds—its white is completely different from the darker clouds behind it. It looks like an apparition, but we know of Pissarro’s distaste for symbolism.

The truth became clear in 2010 at the superb exhibition, A City for Impressionism: Monet, Pissarro and Gauguin, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen that included this painting. The bridge Pissarro painted is Pont Corneille, which connected Rouen with Saint-Sever, the town across the river. At that time, there was a suspension bridge upriver from Pont Corneille. Built in 1836, it was called the “wire bridge” because of the fragile appearance of its cables. While the bridge itself was not visible from Pissarro’s location, the shiny arch that supported the bridge’s cables rose above the level of Pont Corneille. In this case, Pissarro was painting exactly what he saw.  The historic photograph below shows the “wire bridge” with its arch.

Pissarro made three more paintings from that location during this visit, but the shining arch is barely noticeable. Did he feel it was a distraction? He probably continued to paint what he saw. However, the skies in the other paintings are filled with clouds, allowing for little reflection on the shining object.

The shining arch disappeared before Pissarro’s next painting excursion to Rouen thirteen years later. The old suspension bridge was replaced by a new iron bridge, Pont Boieldieu in 1888.  Pissarro painted the new Pont Boieldieu as many as 16 times during his next three visits to Rouen. It stood until June 1940, when it was destroyed by the French Army to slow the advance of German troops. The current Pont Boieldieu was finally opened in 1955.

                 [Photo from collection of the author]

Resources: Pissarro: Critical Catalog (2005) Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Shoellaerts

A City for Impressionism: Monet, Pissarro and Gauguin (2010) Exhibition catalog


In just 22 days, the blog about Camille Pissarro has grown from 300 views to 406!  Readers now represent 25 countries (up from 19 countries) and five continents!  Many thanks to all of you from


   Apple Trees in Bloom

1870, McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton (Ontario), Canada

PDR 176

Camille Pissarro had lived in Louveciennes only a year when he made this lovely painting, Apple Trees in Bloom. He had painted the scenes of his neighborhood and now was exploring the nearby countryside. After painting outside in deep snow that winter, he must have been delighted to see the blossoming apple trees of spring.

This peaceful scene soon became a war zone. By September, the Prussians had defeated Napoleon III at Sedan and their soldiers began to occupy France. Before the troops reached Louveciennes, Pissarro and his companion Julie fled with their two small children to Montfoucault, the home of their dear friend Ludovic Piette in the Mayenne. Later, the young family went to London for the duration of the war.

When the Prussians occupied Louveciennes they commandeered Pissarro’s house, sleeping soldiers upstairs and keeping horses on the ground floor. In the garden, they slaughtered livestock and poultry, using Pissarro’s canvases as aprons and to cover the muddy ground. A great number of Pissarro’s art works were lost or destroyed beyond repair.

The catalogue raisonné (Pissarro:Critical Catalogue, 2005) notes that this painting was bought from the artist by Paul Durand-Ruel on April 30, 1872, almost a year after Pissarro returned from London. There is no information on where this painting and other surviving canvases were during the war.

This landscape is a complex composition of lines and angles. The road is just one of several layers of colors which come to a point and vanish in a distant cluster of houses. Several apple trees march in a straight row diagonally across the lower left, their precise alignment broken by the leaning tree at the front. In the distance lies a village, perhaps Louveciennes. The apple trees serve as a screen, both concealing and revealing the countryside. Pissarro first used this type of composition the previous year, and he continued to develop his use of this device throughout his career.

Apple Trees in Bloom was donated to the McMaster Museum of Art (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) in the mid-1980s by Dr. Herman Herzog Levy.


The Tuileries Gardens, Morning, Spring, Sunlight

1899, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art  PDRS 1263

Pissarro often gives us lots of information about his paintings. Here, he tells us the location, the time of day, the season, and the weather.  But Spring can be changeable. On this April day in 2012, the sun creates the illusion of warmth, but it is cold enough for coats and hats and a brisk wind keeps things chilly.  It is impossible to tell from Pissarro’s painting if it was warm or chilly, but many people are enjoying the sun.

The sunny glow of the Tuileries Gardens creates a green oasis in the midst of the city, with its lines of trees, formal lawns and flower beds framing the circular fountain. Looking from his apartment window on the rue de Rivoli, Pissarro uses the very symmetrical design of the Tuileries Gardens to form a distinctly asymmetrical painting.  He places the circular pond on the far left, a bright patch of blue, and allows the various walkways between the green lawns to lead our eyes to the right.

It is interesting to note that this view looks very nearly the same today as it did when Pissarro painted it. In the distance, we see the steeples of Sainte-Clotilde, across the Seine on Paris’s Left Bank. In other paintings of this same view that Pissarro made in 1900, the construction of the Gare d’Orsay (now the Musée d’Orsay) is visible. Durand-Ruel, Pissarro’s art dealer was well pleased with both of his Tuileries Garden series and bought a number of them to sell to his clients.


The whole story when I return……


Bridge at Caracas, 1854

Washington DC, National Gallery   Watercolor


This watercolor of a stone bridge in Caracas focuses on the carefully described archway in the center. Through the arch, we see the foothills of the mountains beyond. As he does in later pictures of bridges in Rouen, Pissarro shows people on the bridge and others in the valley below, which establish the height of the bridge. The density of the graphite strokes underneath the watercolor, faithfully depicts the solidity and magnitude of the rocky hillsides.

To portray the different facets of the rock, Pissarro uses parallel strokes, most evident on the left side where the color is lighter. They closely resemble the natural layers found in rock and provide a strong contrast to the blocks of stone used to create the arch of the bridge. The skill he displayed in this simple watercolor demonstrates that Pissarro was a highly competent artist long before the birth of Impressionism.


Cricket? In French Impressionism?

Hampton Court Green, London

1891 Washington, DC National Gallery of Arts

PDR 887

Pissarro was intrigued by motifs that were typically English. During his second London visit in 1890, he painted his first cricket match. He must have enjoyed the game because he painted two more cricket matches on his fourth London visit.

A cricket match is not the easiest thing to depict—the players are spread out over a large playing field. Pissarro capitalizes on the expansiveness of the green lawns edged by magnificent shade trees. He allows them to extend well beyond the edges of the canvas, giving a feeling of endlessness. This and the substantial clubhouse buildings must have been an interesting change for the painter who generally confined his motif to what the eye would see in a glance. Since the painting carries the date of 1891, Pissarro must have finished it in his studio in Éragny after his return from London.

When this painting was exhibited in Belgium the next year, it attracted the enthusiastic attention of art reviewers. One critic said that the painting “showing a lawn bathed in summer light, crowded with cricket players […], possesses above all an extra-ordinary intensity. It miraculously suggests the sumptuous aristocratic English life.”


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