Posts Tagged 'Monet'

PISSARRO — A YOUNG ARTIST IN CARACAS

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

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

When Pissarro was 22 years old, he left the family home in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and went to Venezuela with his friend, Danish painter Fritz Melbye. The two artists opened a studio where they taught art and sold their paintings. This photo shows the artist dressed in a gaucho costume.

gaucho0001

Pissarro painted the “Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas” (1852-54) when he was about 23 years old.  Obviously, he was already an accomplished artist. Painted in a highly realistic style, it shows the large market in the center of Caracas. (This is just the first of many market scenes to be painted by Pissarro during his lifetime.) This painting demonstrates Pissarro’s understanding of perspective. Details of the cathedral tower are visible In the background. In the middle ground is a woman carrying a jug on her head. The focal point is the man in the red poncho on the donkey.  The folds of his poncho and white pants are carefully modeled. His wide-brimmed hat casts a perfect shadow on his left shoulder.

Resting in the shade of a white canopy are two women, with their wares spread out beside them. Interestingly, the color of the canopy’s shadow is gray. Later in his Impressionist years, the artist would banish black from his palette and use blues and purples to paint shadows. The woman on the left is difficult to see in this reproduction of the painting, but there is a drawing Pissarro probably used as a preparatory work. It displays her beauty and Pissarro’s skill as a draughtsman at such an early age.

Drawing-young black woman seated

Just for good measure, here is a another painting made by the 24-year-old Pissarro. It was bought by his friend Melbye and was safe from the war’s destruction. During their stay in Venezuela, Melbye and Pissarro traveled into the mountains and stayed at a small village named Galipan, where Pissarro made drawings of the mountains, the tropical forests, and the people.

5 Hut in Galipan

Even before he was an Impressionist, Pissarro was a talented, proficient artist selling paintings and teaching art. When we group Pissarro with the Impressionists, we tend to forget that he was ten years older than the others. When the 24-year-old Pissarro made these paintings and drawings, Monet was just 14, beginning to draw. No wonder Pissarro led the way to Impressionism and beyond.

WHERE’S THE FOCAL POINT?

La Côte des Jalais, Pontoise 1867    PDR 116 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

La Côte des Jalais, Pontoise
1867 PDR 116
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

At first glance, this painting looks very much like any other Impressionist landscape in museums. But what if I were to tell you this is an extremely radical painting? One critic who wrote in 1868 about this painting said, “It is painted with great simplicity; the details, executed in groups, give one the impression they were studied singly. There is a great pictorial talent here, to be sure; unfortunately, it lacks a subject.” (Emphasis is mine.)

Today, we look at abstract art and are totally unconcerned that it rarely has a subject. We don’t even expect it. But historically, paintings were “pictures of something,” a church, a river, a person, or a group of people. In fact, the most favored paintings at the Salon were expected to show famous historical or mythological scenes. Landscapes were much less important to them, and it had to have a focal point—one thing that is the center of attention. The focal point was prominently positioned, a brighter color, or larger than other elements. In other words, it was obvious what the artist wanted you to look at.

This large painting (34.2” x 45.2”) by Pissarro was exhibited in the Salon of 1868, where reportedly it was hung too high to be seen properly. But the critic could see it well enough to determine that it has no focal point. In the lower foreground, two women dressed in fashionable dresses are seen on the path. In a painting by Monet or Renoir, they would probably be the focal point, but Pissarro makes them so small, we cannot even see their faces or distinguish any details of their dresses. Additionally, they are dwarfed by the tall trees directly behind them.

Just left of the women is a group of houses, but they do not provide a focal point. They derive their importance only by their proximity to each other. They are fashioned with few brush strokes, and get their only sense of depth from the roof lines. The right side is dominated by a large dark wedge; it is impossible to distinguish bushes or trees in the tangle of dark green brushstrokes.

The curved lines of the fields are the only clues that there is a deep valley between distant horizon line and the women. The fields are painted in broad swaths of color that flatten the background and make them look closer than they would in reality. Pissarro, who had already proven himself to be proficient in painting accurate perspective, has chosen to flatten out this landscape. He never intended to make a perfect photographic replica, as the Realistic painters did. He was painting a composition of different colors and shapes set side-by-side.  He simply used the real motif as a spark for his own personal sensation.

No one would call this an abstract painting—too much is recognizable, but the flatness of the painting and the broad swathes of color are abstract elements. But radical for its time—yes, indeed.  And this was seven years before the first Impressionist Exhibition. Pissarro was using artistic techniques that were different from all other artists before that time and those who were his friends.

Much of the information in this article is from Pissarro:Critical Catalogue, Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts (2005).

A VERY EARLY PISSARRO MASTERPIECE

Unloading a Barge, Sunset c. 1864    PDR 85 Private collection

Unloading a Barge, Sunset
c. 1864 PDR 85
Private collection

“Unloading a Barge, Sunset” (PDR 85) is an incredible painting, even in a photograph. Painted about 1864, it is one of the few survivors of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) during which thousands of Pissarro’s artworks were destroyed. We can only wonder how many other beautiful canvases were lost.

At first glance, we are reminded of the painting that gave Impressionism its name, Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise” (1872). Pissarro made this painting eight years before Monet’s painting and ten years before the First Impressionist Exhibition. It is possible that Monet saw this painting by Pissarro in Louveciennes when they painted together before the War.

Even at this early stage in his career (Pissarro had come to Paris only nine years earlier), the artist was making his own rules. The standards for art during those days was set by the French Academy in their annual Salon exhibitions. Their mandates were clear: important topics, historical or mythical; smooth finish, no visible brushstrokes; giant canvases suitable for public buildings, and more. This painting defies every dictum.

The focal point is clear—a dark, shadowy barge in the foreground, its mast pointing our eyes to the top of the canvas. It depicts a workaday scene, a man pushing a wheelbarrow down the gangplank unloading goods. On the other side, a man standing in a small skiff works with someone on deck. At the right edge, a small white sailboat describes the width of the river and emphasizes the painting’s strong asymmetrical composition. The painting is tiny by any standards, approximately 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches.

Unlike most of Pissarro’s later paintings, the title of this one does not indicate the location. But the type of boat and width of the river suggest that the location could be somewhere on the Seine River near Paris. Pissarro had made other paintings of barges at La Roche Guyon, a village near Giverny, and this might be the scene, but with the background subsumed in blue-grey shadows, it is impossible to know for sure.

The boat and all the figures are mere silhouettes against the sunset, brilliantly depicted with bold brushstrokes and heavy impasto, paint layered on as thick as butter on toast. The brilliance of the sun is masterful, created with a cool pale yellow which we see as white hot. Its heat tinges the nearby clouds with rose, coral and pale pink fading gradually into the darker blue of the overcast sky. In the dark water, shimmers of white and gold and red surround the dark reflection of the barge.

Many artists would have moved beyond the barge to give the sunset and the glimmering water the most emphasis. But Pissarro forces us to look at the boat first and makes our eyes work to get beyond it to the colors in the sky.  A radical composition and a true treasure.

——————

Many readers from this blog are from Germany—there are at least two today! Over the past few months, 348 views have been from Germany.  If you are one of those, or if you are from Belgium, France, or any nearby country, you might be interested in this Pissarro exhibition!

PISSARRO, FATHER OF IMPRESSIONISM

Von der Heydt Museum

Wuppertal, Germany

Until February 22, 2015

http://www.pissarro-ausstellung.de/

The exhibition contains nearly 60 paintings by Pissarro and an even larger number of his works on paper—drawings, etchings, prints, wood block prints and all types of media. They are paired with a large number of paintings by other painters of that time, most notably paintings by Fritz Melbye, who went with Pissarro to Venezuela, and Ludovic Piette, his very close friend and owner of Montfoucault, a large farm in Brittany where Pissarro and his family visited frequently.

There are also paintings and drawings by such artists as Corot, Daubigny, Courbet, Manet, Gauguin, Monet, Sisley, Signac, Cézanne, Seurat, and other painters contemporary with Pissarro.

There are many early paintings and paintings from private collections on view that I have never seen.  I am going to see the exhibition in early December.  If you are in Germany and plan to see the exhibition, let me know. (annsaul33@pissarrosplaces.com)

WHAT IS THAT SHINING OBJECT?

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



%d bloggers like this: