Today I was at the Orsay, and I counted 19 paintings by Camille Pissarro on view. This is more than I remember at any other time. The Orsay has approximately 60 paintings by Pissarro, yet they generally have shown the same ones, usually less than 10. All of those were on display today, but there were many others which usually are not shown.
The one shown above, Barge at La Vareen Saint-Hillaire, is unfamiliar to me and I suspect to most other Pissarro fans. It is a very early painting, 1864. made ten years before the first Impressionist Exhibition. Already you can see that Pissarro was rebelling against the academic structure of the Salon.
This painting is tiny by any measure, only 16.1 x 10.6 inches. It would have never been able to complete with large Salon paintings and clearly was not meant to. In fact, it was probably painting en plain air, on the actual site. The paint is applied in thick brushstrokes, which are clearly visible—another push against academia which favored smooth finishes with invisible brushstrokes. The motif is a landscape, which depicts a very ordinary scene with people at their daily activities. This also countered the Salon’s preference for paintings depicting history, myths, or important events.
The painting shows a barge crossing the Marne river, carrying a horse and carriage. The river is obviously very still because we can see the reflections of the barge and its passengers in the water. It may be the quiet before the storm given the dark clouds overhead. At the left is another smaller boat with its passengers either ready to depart or just landing. On the opposite bank, we see the hill rising from the river with a town at its crest.
La Vareen Saint-Hillaire, southeast of Paris, is an old town on the Marne river. An abbey was established there in 639 AD, and in the 16th century, a castle was built. The ancient abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution. This painting was made in 1864, six years before the Franco-Prussian War which was particularly harsh on this little village.
This painting shows that even before the Impressionist movement, Pissarro was in the vanguard of opposition to the strictures of the Salon. He led the way toward new ways of seeing color and motifs and new painting techniques.
You can view the painting on the Orsay’s website at this website; however, their digital photo does not allow you to enlarge the photo very much for close examination.
Pissarro would love this little girl who was diligently copying one of his paintings. He taught his own children to draw at an early age and most of them became artists whose paintings are in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay (though they are rarely if ever seen). To her credit, she chose an especially hard painting to reproduce. Since this was midway in her copy book, she probably has already worked on many other paintings. (I wasn’t the only one attracted by her concentration. Without her knowledge, a circle of admiring adults were watching, taking pictures, but being careful not to interrupt her.)
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HELLO TO READERS
A few weeks ago, one European reader came on this blog and read 69 postings in one day! Since I have no way to know who you are, I just want to say THANK YOU for your interest in Pissarro and for visiting this blog. Many readers log on the blog and read several posts, and others perhaps come more often to check out what is new.
When I last checked the statistics, there were readers in more than 70 countries and on six continents. (I guess Antarctica does not have any Pissarro fans.) To all of you, sincere thanks for your interest in Pissarro and for reading this blog.
Some readers have told me that they had difficulty posting comments to the blog. The intricacies of this website are beyond me, but I would definitely like to hear from you. Here is an email address by which you can reach me directly.
I would love to hear your comments. If you would like me to post your comments, please let me know. Otherwise, i will keep your remarks private. I look forward to hearing from you.
Author of PISSARRO’S PLACES
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The book is available at www.pissarrosplaces.com. There is a special discount available for those who visit the website. It is also available on Amazon.