Posts Tagged 'Pissarro'

Pissarro’s Birthday – July 10, 1830

 

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Camille Pissarro

On July 10, 1830, Camille Pissarro was born in Charlotte Amalie, the principal city on the island of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.  At the age of 12, his parents sent him to private school in Passy, a suburb of Paris, where he learned to draw. From that time forward, his life was devoted to art.

At the age of 53, he wrote his son Lucien, “Painting, art in general, enchants me. It is my life. What else matters? When you put all your soul into a work, all that is noble in you, you cannot fail to find a kindred soul who understands you, and you do not need a host of such spirits. Is not that all an artist should wish for?”*

Today, there are hosts of kindred souls who love Pissarro’s work. Two exhibitions in Paris were filled with people; one extended its time for two extra weeks. In Pontoise, viewers crowded the galleries to look at his engravings. Even in Copenhagen, large groups came to see the early works of Pissarro. Since this blog on Pissarro began in 2012, there have been 23,420 views from readers on six continents, showing the international appeal of Pissarro’s work.

But Pissarro was never satisfied with the present; he was always looking for innovative techniques, bigger challenges, and new ways to express his “sensations.” While he is considered “The First Among the Impressionists,” he is so much more.

The only way to understand his artistic contribution is to look at his work, not through the microscope of Impressionism, but with a wide-angle lens that includes the generations of painters who followed him. Some of the techniques he pioneered had no name in his time; now, we see them as virtually abstract. Our comprehension of Pissarro’s genius has only just begun.

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The Flock of Sheep, Eragny, 1888 Private collection, PDRS 860

In just thirteen years, we will mark Pissarro’s 200th birthday. He will be the first Impressionist to reach that milestone. How should he be remembered in that year? Here are some possibilities:

  A comprehensive retrospective in major museums in France and the United States.

  A scholarly symposium that looks at Pissarro’s work as seminal in the wide scope of modern and contemporary art, resulting in publications. (An excellent symposium was held in 2003 commemorating the 100th anniversary of Pissarro’s death, but it centered on his role as Impressionist.)

  New research into Pissarro’s work by graduate students of art schools and universities.

  A new more comprehensive biography, including extensive new information from the 2005 catalogue raisonne (Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts).

It is not too soon to begin thinking about 2030—good exhibitions, research, and publication of books take time.  And when Pissarro’s work is in focus, there are always surprises.

*Letter of November 20, 1883, Letters to His Son Lucien, edited by John Rewald.

 

 

 

 

 

PISSARRO in Copenhagen

Palm tree painting

Landscape from the Antilles, rider and donkey on the road, 1856, Ordrupgaard, Charlottenlund

Copenhagen feels a special connection with Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), and rightly so. The artist was, after all, a Danish citizen his whole life. And his early life was marked by a close connection with a Danish painter named Fritz Melbye (1826-1869). It was their friendship and their influence on each other which inspired the recent exhibition, “Pissarro, a meeting in St. Thomas” at the Ordrupgaard in the outskirts of Copenhagen.

Pissarro was born on July 10, 1830 in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. At that time, St. Thomas and its neighboring islands St. Croix and St. John were the Danish West Indies, a colony of Denmark. Thus, Pissarro was a Danish citizen at birth, and though he spent all of his adult life in France, he never became a French citizen.

After attending school in France, the young man was expected to enter the family business in the Caribbean. But he wanted to be an artist. It was while working on the docks at Charlotte Amalie that he met Fritz Melbye.

Because Melbye was four years older than Pissarro, it might be assumed that he had much to teach the young artist. But Pissarro’s early drawings and paintings show that his technique was already well advanced. What occurred was a collegial sharing of ideas and interests.  They traveled together to Venezuela where for almost two years they worked side-by-side, exploring the mountains and maintaining an art studio in Caracas where they painted and sold their works.

This exhibition brought together a large number of Pissarro’s early drawings, watercolors, and paintings, pairing them with drawings and paintings by Melbye. A large portion of the exhibition was based on work done previously by Richard Brettell on a cache of works that Melbye had left with Frederick William Church (1826-1900) in Olano, New York. Another sizable portion included Pissarro’s early drawings from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, UK, which were catalogued by Brettell and Christopher Lloyd.

One new discovery was the early Pissarro painting, “Landscape from the Antilles, rider and donkey on the road,” (1856), which was not included in the recent catalogue raisonne by Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts (2005). It may have been bought in France by Anton Melbye (1818-1875), artist and brother of Fritz, and taken back to Denmark at some point.

Pissarro’s drawing, “Rio de Maiquetia,” (1852) shows his skillful use of simple pencil marks to create form and volume. He uses parallel lines, not only to create light and darkness, but to shape the planes of the rocks. Later, he used a similar technique in painting with oils, one that Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) later adopted and developed into his signature technique.

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Rio de Maiquetia, 1852, Private collection.

This early watercolor, “Bridge in Caracas” (1854), much more than a sketch, is a complete painting. Pissarro and Melbye may have made paintings like this to sell in their studio.

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Bridge in Caracas, 1854 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

The painting, “Mountain landscape with a cabin,” (c. 1854) leaves no doubt as to Pissarro’s capabilities.  It may have been painted en plein air during one of the trips Pissarro and Melbye took with friends into the mountains that surround Caracas.

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Mountain landscape with a cabin, c. 1854, Private collection

In our minds, Pissarro has a bald head and a long white beard. But we forget that he was once young and had a full head of hair.  This self-portrait (1857-58) shows him as he must have been during his sojourn in Venezuela—a handsome young man looking earnestly at us with just a hint of a smile.

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Self-portrait, 1857-1858, National Museum of Art, Copenhagen

The value of this exhibition is that it reminds us of the artist Pissarro was before he became an Impressionist.  His work was quite advanced, and he was already experimenting with new ideas and techniques. This inventiveness is what he would carry with him throughout his life, creating some of the most intriguing and beautiful paintings of all time.

Paris Loves Pissarro – 3 of 3

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The Oise River at Pontoise, 2017

The last of the three Pissarro exhibitions wasn’t in Paris at all—it was in Pontoise, just a 30-minute train ride from Paris. Pissarro lived in Pontoise with his family at two different times—from 1866-1868 and again from 1872 – 1882. There he created some of his most well-loved Impressionist paintings.

Pontoise, an ancient city on the banks of the Oise River northwest of Paris, has two museums: Musée Tavet-Delacour and Musée Camille Pissarro, both under the direction of Christophe Duvivier, who curated the exhibition, “Camille Pissarro—Engraved Impressions.” This large selection of prints was the perfect compliment to the two exhibitions in Paris, showcasing the artist’s extraordinary creativity. According to the exhibition catalogue, there are known to be about 230 prints by Pissarro, including 131 engravings, 67 lithographs and some 30 monotypes. In this extensive exhibition, approximately sixty prints were those held by the Musée Camille Pissarro.

One of the most beautiful works is an early etching, “La Roche-Guyon,” (1866). The etching process is fairly simple: the artist scratches lines on a metal plate covered with a waxy material. Acid bites into the metal where it is exposed by the lines, forming grooves. After cleaning, the plate is inked and wiped so that ink remains only in the grooves. The plate is pressed against paper, creating the etching. Each print, as it comes off the press, is noted as a different state.

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La Roche-Guyon, 1866 Etching, 2nd state, Bibliothéque nationale de France, Paris

In 1879, Pissarro began making prints with Edgar Degas, who owned his own press. They experimented with the plate after each print, changing the image, as shown in these two prints, “Effect of Rain,” (1879). For the first state, Pissarro began, not with etching, but with aquatint. Powdered resin, which is dusted on the plate, melts when it is heated and forms hard bumps. Acid makes grooves around them to hold ink. Aquatint, unlike etching, allows the artist to vary areas of light and dark.

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Effect of rain, 1879 Aquatint, 1st state, Kunsthalle Bremen, Breme, Italy

In the sixth state, Pissarro used etching, aquatint, and soft ground, which creates lines that look as soft as pencil or crayon. In the intervening states, he darkened the haystack and added two people and trees. In the sixth state, he achieved the look of rain by rubbing the plate with emery cloth in delicate diagonal stripes.

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Effect of rain, 1879 Etching, aquatint and soft ground on zinc, Bibliothéque nationale de France, Paris

Pissarro’s prints frequently reflect the same motifs as his paintings. The print, “Path near the woods at l’Hermitage (Pontoise)” (1879) is practically identical to that of his painting, “View of l’Hermitage through the trees,” (1879), and it appears they were made around the same time.

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Path near the woods at l’Hermitage (Pontoise) 1879 Etching, soft ground, aquatine and dry point, Bibliothéque nationale de France, Paris

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View of l’Hermitage through the trees, 1879, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO

In 1894, Pissarro was finally able to afford a good press of his own, allowing him to perform more complicated experiments. To make “Market at Gisors (rue Cappeville)” (1894/1895), he used four plates, which were inked in black, blue, red and yellow. He was able to make greens and browns by allowing areas of color to overlap. The pinpoints at the top and bottom show how he aligned the plates so as to achieve the proper register.

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Market at Gisors (rue Cappeville), 1894/1895 Etching and dry point, 7th state, Bibliothéque nationale de France, Paris

Pissarro also experimented with monotypes, in which paint is applied to glass or smooth stone or metal covered with a greasy substance. As indicated by the name, only one print can be made of each work, but different colors can be used as on a canvas. In this one, “Women doing haymaking,” (c. 1894), the brushstrokes are visible.

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Women doing haymaking, c. 1894 Monotype in colors, Musée Faure, Aix-les-Bains, France

He also made lithographs, a process based on the principle that oil repels water. In “Quai de Rouen (Grand Pont)” (1896), he used a variety of gray tones to indicate light and shadow.

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Quai de Rouen (Grand Pont), 1896 Lithograph on zinc, Unique state, Musée Camille Pissarro, Pontoise

One of the most popular self-portraits of Pissarro is this etching made in 1890. It recalls Rembrandt’s self-portraits in which the face emerges from blackness. In this one, Pissarro’s eyes, peering from behind his half-rimmed glasses, are captivating while his dark coat fades into the background.

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Camille Pissarro, 1890 Etching and aquatint, 2nd state, Musée Camille Pissarro, Pontoise

Paris Loves Pissarro – 2 of 3

 

800 La Maison Delafolie a Eragny 1885

La Maison Delafolie a Éragny, Soleil Couchant 1885 Musée d’Orsay, Paris PDRS 800

The Pissarro exhibition at the Musée Luxembourg in Paris is totally different from the one at the Marmottan.  “Pissarro in Éragny” focuses only on the paintings the artist did in the last two decades of his life at his rural home on the edge of Normandy. 

Pissarro had lived in Pontoise for many years, but it became too expensive for his large family. After a long search, he found a big house on a generous plot of land in the tiny village of Éragny (it is still a tiny village, but now has one stop light to slow the large trucks who used to speed through the main street). 

Eventually, Pissarro and his wife Julie bought the house, and he transformed the large barn into a studio.  Many of the paintings in this exhibition were made from one of the windows in this studio.

This is the only group of Pissarro’s works that had not been studied before now. The narrow focus of these paintings displays the genius of Pissarro in that he could look at scenes so familiar and still see new visions.

When Pissarro moved to Éragny in 1884, he did not know Seurat and had not yet begun his experiments with Pointillism. But he had been studying the books of color written by Chevreul and the American Ogden Rood. His paintings show that he was already practicing a form of color division. In “La Maison Delafolie a Éragny, Soleil Couchant (1885). he uses several different colors to depict the haystack and the side of the building, as well as the patch of grass and the road.

 

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Detail PDRS 800

After learning how Seurat had formalized color division into a system called Pointillism, Pissarro enthusiastically began experimenting with the technique. In “Paysannes Ramassant des Herbs, Éragny,” (1886) he uses thousands of tiny dots, placing contrasting colors side by side—colors that would mix in the viewer’s eye to produce the desired hue. This particular painting is interesting in that Pissarro uses the fields and the lines of trees to outline the geometric aspects on the canvas. The lines and angles contrast with the curves and puffiness of the clouds in the sky.

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Paysannes Ramassant des Herbes, Éragny 1886 Private collection PDRS 830

In “Gelée Blanche, Jeune Paysanne Faisant de Feu” (1888), Pissarro shows just how much can be done with the tiny dots, especially in the fire and smoke as they blend together to create color and form.

1888 GElee Blanche, Jeune Paysanne Faisant du Feu 1888

Gelée Blanche, Jeune Paysanne Faisant du Feu 1888 Musée d’Orsay, Paris PDRS 857

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Detail PDRS 857

After a few years, Pissarro abandoned Pointillism because it took so long to produce a finished work and because he missed the spontaneity of his earlier style of painting. Instead, he developed a larger brushstroke which he frequently produced in a series of cross-hatches, but he retained the color division that he had developed before his experiments with Pointillism.

Pissarro used the passing seasons and the weather to create new views of the land around Éragny.  In “Effet de neige a Éragny” (1894), he allows the snow to define the geometric outline of the meadow. The crooked fence and line of trees make diagonals from the left corner and form angles with the horizontal fence and line of trees. In the muted colors of late autumn, he uses light orange to emphasize the angle.  The droopy tree on the right lends some curves to what is otherwise a study in lines.

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Niege, Soleil, Couchant, Eragny 1894 New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA PDRS 1021

In one of my personal favorites of the entire exhibition, “Femmes Dans un Clos, Printemps, Temps Gris, Eragny” (1895) Pissarro layers two of his favorite techniques. In the very back is a line of trees forming a screen. Over it he places the curvy limbs of a blooming fruit tree which adds another screen to the existing trees.  In the foreground, he places rows of plowed earth in straight lines, which are mirrored right above them  by the straight fence rows. The composition is so complex and so interesting that you almost fail to see the two women working in the field on the right.

1075 Femmes Dans un Clos, Printemps, Temps Gris, Eragny 1895

Femmes dans un Clos, Printemps, Temps Gris, Eragny 1895 Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada PDRS 1075

This exhibition on Pissarro’s Érany paintings provides a clearer understanding of his passage through Pointillism to a new way of painting that allowed him to express his own “sensations” and create new ways of looking at paint on canvas. The exhibition runs until July 23.

Paris Loves Pissarro — 1 of 3

 

Self-Portrait

Self-portrait with a palette 1896 Dallas Museum of Art

On my second visit to the Musée Marmottan, I learned that they have extended the exhibition for two extra weeks!  That’s how big the crowds are at the exhibition, “Pissarro, First Among the Impressionists.” On both visits, the galleries were thick with people, including a tour bus from who knows where and groups of school children who paid close attention to the details.

Pissarro, who once said of viewers that “they pass me by,” would have been so pleased to see that the French people have come to appreciate his work.  And he would have been so proud of the superb exhibition mounted by Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, co-author of the Pissarro catalog raisonne. Because she knows all of his paintings–literally, she knew which to choose for this exhibition.

It begins with a painting Pissarro made of his birthplace, St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. It looks like an Impressionist painting but he made it in 1855, nineteen years before the first Impressionist exhibition. Monet was only 15 years old at the time.

 

Two Women by the Sea

Two Women near the sea, 1856,  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Another painting of barges on the Seine made in 1863, also looks Impressionist, with the cloudy sky and reflections in the water. There are several early paintings, but only one reflects Corot’s influence, showing the young Pissarro’s stubborn independence from the beginning.

There are so many gorgeous paintings from Louveciennes, and this exhibition has three classical ones, including two snow paintings that are totally Impressionistic, including purple shadows.

Louveciennes

The Route to Versailles, Louveciennes, snow, 1870, E. G. Buhrle Fondation, Zurich

The later paintings from Pontoise include “Climbing Path” which I’ve written about previously in this blog. “View of the Hermitage” shows Pissarro’s interest in using a screen of trees that forces the eye to wander in and out with no place to rest, much like Pollock’s drip paintings. Of course, the famous “Hoarfrost,” featured in this blog before, is present and continues to intrigue the viewer.

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Hoar Frost, 1873, Musee d’Orsay, Paris

 

The exhibition includes a large number of figure paintings, including the “Young Girl with a Stick,” which is used in posters for the exhibition. One of my favorites, The Little Maid” makes me marvel at Pissarro’s composition where he plays rectangular doors and the diagonal broomstick against the circular edge of the table and the curves of the chairs.

Young Girl with Stick

Young Girl with a Stick, 1881, Musee d’Orsay, Paris

One of the biggest surprises was the large group of fans painted by Pissarro. The shape of the fan presents interesting composition problems for artists. Pissarro painted them because they didn’t take too long, and he could sell them at a price that almost anyone could afford, unlike his paintings.

Berger et moutons

Shepherd and Sheet, 1890, gouache and crayon on silk, Perez Simon Collection, Mexico City, Mexico.

One of the stars of the show was Pissarro’s pointillist painting from Philadelphia Museum of Art, “l’Ile Lacroix, effect of fog,” which is simply incredible in its use of greys, blues, and yellows, reminding one of a Rothko painting.

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The Seine at Rouen, Isle Lacroix, effect of fog, 1888, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

Another masterpiece is “The Gathering of the Apples,” which has a mysterious square shadow set diagonally against its square canvas. The positions of the three women form a triangle over the shadow, all of it painted with millions of tiny dots.

Gathering Apples

The Gatherine of Apples, 1886, Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Japan

The paintings from Eragny include one of my favorites, “Autumn, Poplars, Eragny” from Denver. The mixture of yellows and orange with a myriad of greens is breathtaking.

Autumn, Poplars, Eragny

Autumn, Poplars, Eragny, 1894, Denver Art Museum, Denver

The cityscapes include a wonderful rainy Paris scene looking down the boulevard to the Opera Garnier. “The Boieldieu Bridge, Rouen, effect of fog” offers an intriguing view of the Seine filled with boats, and at the bottom of the canvas, a steam train chugs along the quai, its steam adding to the haze, creating a vision in blue and gray.

Of course, the exhibition would not be complete without a self-portrait of the artist, and the curator chose one that is seldom seen. Pissarro, looking in a mirror, pictures himself in his artist’s smock and a beret, easel in one hand, brush in the other. His gray-white beard is a flurry of quick brushstrokes, and his eyes peer out from behind large round glasses. There are extra brushstrokes in the lower left corner that appear to make his smock longer, but don’t. Isn’t that just like Pissarro to always give us something to question, something to wonder about!

 

PISSARRO in Paris, in Pontoise, and in Copenhagen

This Spring offers an unprecedented opportunity to study the work of Camille Pissarro with four unique exhibitions available at the same time.

PISSARRO at the Marmottan, already open, offers a comprehensive retrospective of his life’s work, bringing together many of his masterpieces.

marmottan

 

PISSARRO at Éragny is a more specialized look at his rural landscapes after 1884, a group of paintings that have not been closely studied before.

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CAMILLE PISSARRO

PISSARRO: In the Chestnut Grove at Louveciennes

 

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Chestnut Grove at Louveciennes, 1872, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, PDRS 233

Chestnut Grove at Louveciennes [PDRS 233], painted by Pissarro in 1872, is one of three Pissarro masterpieces that will be on exhibition when the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art opens their newly renovated Bloch Galleries on March 11. This painting alone makes a cross-country flight to Kansas City worthwhile.

When Pissarro returned to Louveciennes after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), he immediately began painting sites near his own home. This grove of trees must have been very close since the Marly Aqueduct, visible in the background, also ran behind Pissarro’s house.

In real life, these few trees may have looked rather ordinary, but Pissarro used them to make a painting that is no less than radical. The trees make dark slashes across the sky and dig deep into the canvas. They force you to pay attention—nothing else is important, not the pale blue sky or the smattering of houses in the background, not even the Marly Aqueduct.

The big tree in the foreground establishes its preeminence with its broad trunk, white in the sunlight, and one twisted branch reaching up to and out of the canvas at the upper left corner. From the main trunk, another curved branch makes a sharp angle to the right. Between them a large branch seemingly comes from nowhere, extending parallel to the other one. To the right, another tree is bent over at an extremely sharp angle. Its trunk, unusually straight, reaches across half the canvas to the upper right corner. The other trees merely stand by, as straight as their twisted trunks will allow. In the foreground, dark purple shadows radiate from the larger tree, crisscrossing the pale grass even on the side where the sun is shining.

This painting is a grand pas de deux in composition. These two trees command the canvas—their branches embracing the top corners, their shadows making angles on the foreground. And it all comes back to the two trunks, the big gnarly one bent slightly to the left and the slim straight one with its dangerous angle to the right.

What was important to Pissarro was the pattern made by the trees and the shadows. If in your imagination, you eliminate the background and consider only the two trees, this composition might remind you of a painting by Franz Kline, with its bold slashes and sharp angles.

This is why Pissarro was so much more than we ever imagined—even during the birth of Impressionism, he was painting in an abstract manner.

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Vavvdavitch 1955 Franz Kline Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

 



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