Posts Tagged 'Ennery'

Camille Pissarro’s Birthday – July 10, 1830

The world thinks of Camille Pissarro as an Impressionist.  And indeed, Cezanne called him “The First Impressionist.”  But long before that, Pissarro was a highly skilled artist. This painting, which is the first listed in the catalogue raisonne (Pissarro-Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, 2005), is dated 1852-54 and was painted in Venezuela. [Earlier works may have been destroyed when Pissarro’s house was occupied by enemy troops during the Franco-Prussian War, 1870]  It clearly demonstrates his knowledge of perspective, figure painting and the effect of brilliant sunlight.

1 plaza mayor

Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas 1852-54 PDR 1 Presidential residence, La Casona, Caracas

Two decades later Pissarro was at the forefront of the Impressionist movement, creating innovative ways of painting. This painting from 1873 was shown at the first Impressionist exhibition. While it uses the effect of sunlight and the clear colors of Impressionism, it is so much more. We barely see the trees and bushes and man because our eyes are captured by the multitudes of lines and angles and the play of color dividing one section from the other. Specifically, we can’t help seeing the giant X created by lines from the treetop on the left through the bushes at center and continuing along the top of the dark orange section. It is crossed by a line from the tree on the right though the center bush and down the other side of the dark orange section. We do not see this as just a reproduction of early morning frost. We see how paint is used on canvass, the contrast of light blue and orange in a geometric grid. This painting may be called Impressionist, but it is no less than an abstract painting.

EPSON MFP image

Hoar-Frost at Ennery 1873 Musée d’Orsay PDRS 285

At the age of 56, Pissarro was working in the Pointilist style and made this painting near his home in Éragny. The melange of dots placed closely together produce the different colors, but that is not what draws your attention.  The sharp geometric structure create color blocks of yellow and green and blue. It is almost irrelevant that a tiny steam engine is pulling a train into our vision. The shapes look like flat puzzle pieces that fit snugly together. To make sure our eyes stay on the color blocks, Pissarro paints in a neutral cloudy sky above with nothing to distract us from the totally abstract design beneath.

railroad-to-dieppe-1886.jpg!Large

The Dieppe Railway 1886 Philadelphia Museum of Art PDRS 828

In his later years, Pissarro often painted from windows in order to protect his eye which frequently became infected. He spent winters in Paris in various locations. In 1901, he was living at Place Dauphine on the Île de la Citė where he had a splendid view of the Pont -Neuf leading over to the Samaritaine, the large department store on the Right Bank.  The painting is warm and lush with golden sunlight bathing the buildings and reflections in the turquoise water.

Pont-Neuf-1351

The Pont-Neuf, Afternoon, Sunlight (First Series) 1901 Philadelphia Museum of Art PDRS 1351

The buildings, which should suggest substance and mass, look instead like flat theatrical sets. The road, a flowing mass teeming with carriages and pedestrians, is only contained by the side of the bridge with its familiar circular spaces glistening bright white creating a strong diagonal line from the bottom of the canvas to center right. While we can’t see the other side of the bridge, we do see another glistening white horizontal block which almost meets the diagonal of the bridge, drawing our eyes to the Samaritaine. When we get there, however, there is almost nothing to see, a rather shadowy building, less distinct than the others, and not even flying the flags that were customary over Samaritaine.  Just to balance the strong acute angle and give it stability, Pissarro uses the quai across the river to complete the horizontal. However, he diminishes its importance by making it the same color as the building above it and draws our attention to the reflections in the breathtakingly beautiful turquoise water, which cools down all of the buttery yellow blocks and white hot diagonals.

This painting is clearly a scene we recognize, and it still looks the same today (though some of the Samaritaine buildings were reconfigured under a single facade many years ago). Though this picture is clearly representational, something easily recognized, the power of the abstract geometric elements captures our attention. 

Perhaps as we acknowledge Pissarro as the First Impressionist, we should begin to acknowledge the importance of abstract elements in his paintings. Dana Gordon, a New York City artist, said it first and best:

Pissarro traditionally was known as a great landscapist, a translator of nature into art. Pissarro showed that painting’s basic qualities — colors, brushstrokes, materiality, lines, shapes, composition—were meaningful in their own right, and transformed paint into purely visual poetry. He was, in essence, the first abstract artist.

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PISSARRO LOOKS BACK AT PONTOISE

Landscape at Pontoise, c. 1879 Private collection PDR600

Landscape at Pontoise, c. 1879
Private collection PDR 600

Several wonderful Pissarro paintings are available in the Spring sales of Impressionist paintings in New York City this year. This one, “Landscape at Pontoise,” will be offered in the Day Sale on May 15, 2015 at Christie’s. It will be especially exciting to see it in person since the Pissarro catalogue raisonné (2005) contains only a black-and-white photograph. The provenance provided by Christie’s does not list any exhibitions, so it probably has not been on view for a long time.

It is a vertical painting, generally considered an unusual choice for a landscape. At that time, most artists used horizontal canvases that would give them plenty of room on each side of their focal point. This painting is also tiny, only 16 1/8 x 13 inches, a little treasure.

Pissarro uses more than half the canvas for a thick screen of tall poplar trees which prevents us from seeing the village of Pontoise in the distance. All we get is a narrow space through which we see the steeple of the church of Saint-Maclou, now a cathedral, and a couple of red roofs. Even in this close-up, the church steeple is indistinct and though our eyes are drawn to it, it is obviously not a the most important element (focal point) in the painting.

steeple detail

In the foreground, we see a woman bending over and a man in the distance. As we know, many of Pissarro’s paintings have no particular focal point–no large or important element that dominates the view. In this one, both the woman and man are mere sketches rendered in a few brushstrokes and hardly large enough to be important.

woman detail

Though the trees dominate the painting, they have no real importance–all they do is prevent us from seeing what is beyond. Pissarro developed this device about ten years earlier in his 1869 painting, “The Village Screened by Trees.” According to the catalogue raisonné, that was the first time that he used this screening device.

The Village Screened by Trees  c. 1869 Private collection PDR 134

The Village Screened by Trees c. 1869
Private collection PDR 134

We see trees used in similar ways in the paintings of Corot, with whom Pissarro had painted as a young man. But Corot’s paintings always had a focal point, and his trees were never as thick and as dominant as those in Pissarro’s screens.  Pissarro continued to use this compositional device throughout his career. Because this painting has no real focal point, we are forced to look at the painting literally as paint on canvas and enjoy the energy and movement of Pissarro’s brushstrokes.

The Lot Notes provided by Christie’s for this painting say, “Paysage à Pontoise was painted during a period when Pissarro was increasingly using small, stabbing brushstrokes of color to render his images, prefiguring Neo-Impressionism. … Pissarro has paid particular attention to enriching the painted surface with a stippling effect on the trees and the overgrown field.”

trees detail

Pissarro is painting in a way that was still very new for that time. He made this painting in 1879, the year of the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition. The art establishment of that time continued to favor paintings in which brushstrokes were invisible and the surface of the painting was smooth.  Pissarro is, once again, defying the accepted practice. Seen up close, it looks like he was applying the paint with wild abandonment–stabs of blue and white in the sky and green and dark green for the trees. A faint touch of light red among the green gives it even more brilliance.

This view of Pontoise from the nearby village of Ennery was lovely on a sunny day, but Pissarro was not interested in giving us a photographic reproduction. If all we see is the location, then we have missed the point. Pissarro used this view to provide an engaging design for putting paint on canvas.

PISSARRO Exhibition Moves to Barcelona October 15!

The Hermitage Road at Pontoise, 1874 Musée d’Orsay, Paris   PDR349

The Hermitage Road at Pontoise, 1874
Musée d’Orsay, Paris PDR349

This charming landscape by Camille Pissarro was featured in the PISSARRO exhibition in Madrid.  Perhaps it will also be included at the CaixaForum in Barcelona when the PISSARRO exhibition opens there on October 15.

Some of Pissarro’s paintings look deceptively simple—and this is a perfect example! The top third of the canvas is filled with grayish clouds and the lower two-thirds are green fields. A horse and buggy provide a pleasant focal point just off center.

So how do you explain the intrinsic sense of movement, steady as a pulse, that drives the action in the painting. It is only paint on canvas, but you really believe that the buggy is moving forward at a brisk clip. You know that the man on the left will meet the two women walking towards him, and that the tiny buggy on the hillside road will soon disappear from sight.

Underlying these believable elements is a dramatic geometric form—a large lazy Z figure that appears on the horizon just left of center (look for the tiny buggy), makes a sharp angle around the three tall poplar trees, and almost disappears at the left foreground before it forms the bottom of the letter leading to the two women.  In a landscape that appears soft and curvy, this large Z is decidedly sharp and angular, dividing the fields into separate sections.

As if to heighten the excitement, Pissarro works each section in a different manner. Look closely at the space beneath the main road in the foreground. It is divided into four sections of grass, each of them different shades of green, and a small yellowish bridge.  The section between the bottom of the Z and the strong diagonal from left to right  includes six or seven different sections with small dark green trees at the top right edge of the canvas.  The section between the top of the Z and the diagonal is mostly a rosy beige with patches of green but is bordered on the left by darker green. A mysterious pale green band leads our eyes to the three tall poplars at the angle. The distant space above the second road going up the hill appears to be rocky fields defined by a narrow line of tiny green trees on the horizon. Even the sky seems to be doing its part, with the dark clouds scudding away quickly leaving lighter, brighter skies near the horizon.

All the movement is grounded by the prominent arch of the small bridge in the right lower corner of the canvas. It is reflected in the rocks just to the left highlighted by the small white arrow formed by the road’s surface. The stability of the view is also anchored by the presence of a herd of sheep with their shepherd far in the distance just above the woman’s white cap.

Pissarro’s paintings are often subtle. They don’t scream at you with clashing colors and jagged edges, but a careful look reveals many intricate features and very often surprises.

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PISSARRO’S PLACES,

the book about all the locations Pissarro painted,

 will be available in Barcelona at the CaixaForum bookstore.

www.pissarrosplaces.com

Sense the Quiet Pulse of the Earth

The Old Road to Ennery at Pontoise, 1877 National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

The Old Road to Ennery at Pontoise, 1877
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

This painting is one of those in the PISSARRO exhibition in Madrid (previous post)—a serene landscape painted near Pontoise. Just right of center, a woman rides sidesaddle on a horse, leading us into the picture. The road, just a dirt lane through the fields,  intersects with a large road bordered by trees. Between the smaller trees, other haystacks are visible in the distance. On the large road at the left, another woman walks out of the painting.

This simple landscape, divided almost equally between land and sky, is actually quite complicated. The horizon line is slightly curved like the edge of the earth. With nothing to stop our gaze, it stretches on both sides into infinity. The small curved lane where the woman is riding is roughly perpendicular to the large road. To the left of the horse is a small green triangle that makes a line with a row of green cabbages on the other side, creating a curvy X. Not to be outdone, the sky is filled with “buttermilk” clouds interspersed with big puffs that hurry from left to right.

At first glance, the colors seem simple too—red, yellow, green, blue and white. But the fields on the right reveal a myriad of greens—some more yellow, others more blue—side by side. The fields on the left are plain except for dashes of red—perhaps a newly plowed field.

Filled with movement and life, this painting requires a very large canvas. It is, in fact, approximately 59 inches wide and 36 inches high. Though the scene is placid, we sense the quiet pulse of the earth.

You can see it in Madrid at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemiszo for a few more weeks. In October, the PISSARRO exhibition will move to CaixaForum in Barcelona.

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 PISSARRO’S PLACES, the book that explores all the sites painted by Pissarro, is now on sale at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemiszo. It will also be on sale in Barcelona at the CaixaForum in October.

See PISSARRO’S PLACES, the presentation

Philadelphia – Osher Lifetime Learning Institute on October 18

Chicago – Newberry International Research Library on October 23

To schedule a PISSARRO’S PLACES presentation for your organization, contact: Ann Saul at annsaul33@pissarrosplaces.com

 

 



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