Posts Tagged 'Pontoise'

PISSARRO: ENGRAVED IMPRESSIONS IN PONTOISE

pontoise-exhibition-poster

Another very important Pissarro exhibition will take place in Pontoise this spring featuring  Pissarro’s print-making.  The following information is taken from the Facebook page of Musée Pissarro.  The translation from French is mine with the help of Google translations. If you’d like to read the original,  see: https://www.facebook.com/Mus%C3%A9e-Camille-Pissarro-314021768084/

In the second half of the 19th century, Pissarro worked together with Degas to make original engravings. Through his research, freely associating watercolor, aquatint and dry point, they invented Impressionist printmaking. In addition to nearly 200 prints, Pissarro also made monotypes.

In the early 1860s, Pissarro made his first etchings with a classical system of lines and hatching. When Dr. Gachet installed a press in his house in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1873, Pissarro made engravings together with Guillaumin and Cezanne. Beginning in 1879, he began a fruitful collaboration with Degas, who introduced him to colored inks. Pissarro began experimenting with engravings in multiple states that allowed him to retain variants of the same composition.  The possibility of comparing different versions of a motif was a precious discovery that influenced his paintings of urban and port views in his later years. He called his engravings, “engraved impressions.”

This is the most important exhibition in France of Pissarro’s print-making in many decades. It includes works from the collections of the Musée Pissarro, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and private collections along with monotypes from the Musee Malraux du Havre and the Musee d’Aix-les-Baines.

Musée Tavet-Delacour, 4 rue Lemercier 95300 Pontoise

Open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 12:30 and from 13:30 to 18:00

6. PONTOISE d.pdf - Adobe Acrobat Professional

Pontoise is situated on high cliffs overlooking the Oise River. I took this photograph, one of my favorites, from the top of the hill where the Musée Pissarro is now located. It was in Pontoise that Pissarro painted some of his most beautiful Impressionist works. Many of the sites of his paintings are much the same as when he painted them. Visit the new Tourist Office on the banks of the Oise for more information.  Pontoise is just a 40-minute train ride from Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris.

 

Pissarro -Figures in a Landscape

 

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Two Young Peasant Girls, Chatting under the Trees, Pontoise, 1881, Private collection, PDRS 65

 

After focusing on landscapes in the 1860s and early 70s, Pissarro turned again (Brettell and Lloyd 1980, p 5.)to figure painting, a subject he had often depicted in St. Thomas and Venezuela. To best understand Pissarro’s figure painting, it is helpful to consider his drawings. Instead of long flowing lines, he constructed forms with many separate lines. “The idea of the whole figure seen as an enclosed form did not interest the young Pissarro.”1

In his paintings, this translates to forms that are more angular than fluid. This is evident in Two Young Peasant Girls Chatting under Trees, Pontoise, [PDRS 654] painted in 1881. The figures of the girls are set at angles, the sitting girl at almost a right angle while the standing girl’s right foot juts out putting her skirt at a slight angle with her bodice. This angle matches that of the leaning tree in the background.

The form of the standing girl is almost a series of color blocks. Her bodice is nearly square with little sign of actual bodily contours. A few light lines hint of a checker-board pattern in her blouse. Her light-blue skirt is a vertical parallelogram with shaded areas. The red-checkered kerchief covers her face. The form of the other girl is almost indistinct, and her features are mere notations. Both figures are built up with tiny touches of paint, often applied in directional strokes to suggest the form underneath. The foliage behind them is constructed using the same tiny directional strokes that almost stitch the girls into the background. In fact, the brushstrokes are so similar that the girl leaning on the tree would almost disappear into the tree trunk except for the dramatic difference in colors.

This figure painting is so different from what artists had done in the past. The people, who are unknown and have no special importance, are in a place of no significance. There is nothing in the background to tell us anything about them or why they are there—nothing to suggest a storyline. Théodore Duret wrote later, “[Pissarro] portrayed men and women as he saw them, with a simplicity of method and a direct truth of observation greater than had been known before.”2

The composition of the painting, based on the angles of the trees, pulls the standing girl into a highly geometric matrix. Indeed, the shape of the tree at the far right mirrors the stance of the girl. As Brettell and Lloyd say about one of Pissarro’s figure drawings, “She exists within, and merges with, the structured confines of her setting.”3

The area behind the trees is filled with colored planes, and only one tiny house in the distance suggests any depth. The highly-worked surface calls attention to the vigorous brushstrokes and diverts attention from the girls to the making of the painting.

Pissarro had painted this location once before in 1875 in The Climb, Rue de la Côte-du-Jalet, Pontoise. The addition of figures makes the depiction of the steep cliff even more complicated. (See the previous blog on The Climb.)

 

 

1Brettell, R. R. and C. Lloyd (1980). A Catalogue of the Drawings by Camille Pissarro in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Oxford, The Clarendon Press.

2Duret, T. D. (1910). Manet and the French Impressionists. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott Company.

3Brettell, R. R. and C. Lloyd (1980). A Catalogue of the Drawings by Camille Pissarro in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Oxford, The Clarendon Press.

 

 

 

MORE….PISSARRO IN VIENNA

Rue de Gisors - 1868 Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

Rue de Gisors – 1868
Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

Never before have I written two posts about the same painting. But this one from Vienna is more puzzling that it appears. Even in his earliest days as an artist, Pissarro was more interested in using paint on canvas than he was in creating a what most people thought was the perfect picture.  The previous post discussed the strange composition which would have been easy if only it did not include that odd blank space and sliver of a house on the left.

But that isn’t the only unusual thing—Pissarro seemed to be using the large spaces to demonstrate  that brushstrokes can differentiate areas even when colors are almost the same. The predominant color in this painting is the yellowish beige of the houses and walkways.  The clouds and hills are various shades of gray blue, and only the dark green grass in the lower left corner is markedly different.

The grass is composed of large horizontal brush strokes, seemingly with a wide brush. The tiny furrows made by the stiff bristles are very evident from the bottom of the canvas to the vanishing point at the distant blue hillside. There is no difference in intensity or color in the grass of the foreground and that at the vanishing point.

The walkway beside the road seems to have been painted with a smaller brush and more delicate strokes that form very shallow arches. In the foreground the path appears to be a bit lighter than at the horizon line, but the major clue to perspective is the narrowing of the path. 

The road cuts a diagonal swath across the canvas from the right corner to the horizon line, with a shallow walkway on the other side that ultimately disappears. The light on the roadway is directly opposite that on the walkway, appearing darker in the foreground and lighter toward the vanishing point. The brushstrokes on the road are also delicate but are different in shape from those of the path. They appear to be short wavy lines that are slightly diagonal.

The construction of the houses are suggested with pale blue gray blocks  on the pale yellow-beige walls. There is no attempt to paint realistic shutters. They are simply rough perpendicular strokes that are not always aligned. 

The cloudy sky gives Pissarro more opportunities for varied brush strokes. The clouds near the hilltop appear soft with circular strokes. The dark gray clouds at the top are also composed of circular strokes.  The very white clouds in the center seem more ferocious than the dark ones because they are composed of wide brushstrokes in a herringbone pattern.

It seems that Pissarro was using this painting almost like a “sampler” to show that the type of strokes can create important differences in various areas even when the colors are very similar. This canvas shows that he is as interested in the textures the paint creates as he is in recording a picture of a specific place.

The biggest puzzle of all, however, is the woman in the black dress at the left.  She is almost hidden in the shadows, and we would not notice her except for her white petticoat. Who is she? Why is she on the grass instead of the walkway? Why is she there at all? The painting would accomplish the same thing even if she were not there. It calls attention to this strange little group including the tiny little house, the row of three saplings and the woman. What do they mean? We will never know, but we do know that Pissarro often places elements in his paintings that cannot be explained.  It is part of the charm in looking closely at his paintings.

PISSARRO IN VIENNA

Rue de Gisors - 1868 Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

Rue de Gisors – 1868
Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria PDR 127

 

Pissarro made several paintings on the Rue de Gisors in Pontoise, but this one is unlike any of the others.  He painted it during his first stay in Pontoise before the beginnings of Impressionism.

The paintings he made of this street after the Franco-Prussian war show a different part of the street, a high traffic area looking towards the center of town.  This view appears to be the other end the street, looking toward a faraway hill.  At this point, he was still using black in his paintings, as shown by the woman in the black dress on the left. The colors appear to be dark, but this may be simply the an accumulation of residue from more than a hundred years ago.

This painting is one of the few surviving paintings made by Pissarro that date before 1872, the end of the Franco-Prussian War.  During 1870-71, Pissarro fled with his family, first to Brittany and then to London, where he stayed until the war was over.  While he was gone, his home in Louveciennes was used by Prussian soldiers to house their horses and soldiers. They used his canvases to butcher animals and to cover mud in the garden. At that time, he was in his early 40s, and nearly all of his life’s work was destroyed.  Only about 30 paintings survive from those early days.

This painting provides a special insight into Pissarro’s art before Impressionism. I had a chance to see this painting recently in Vienna and here is a little bit of what I learned. His painting was already radical. The composition focuses on the wide cobblestone street with walkways on either side which appears to go downhill. The buildings on the right side of the street are typical and are very much like buildings on that street today. It is the left side of the composition that is so curious. Beside the road on the left is a tiny house partially hidden behind a row of slender trees. In photographs, it is difficult to see the roofline behind the trees, but in person, it is barely visible. To the left is an open space showing sky and then a tiny sliver of another building. If the little trees had been on the left edge of the canvas, the composition would have looked very ordinary. As it is, your attention is drawn to the empty space instead. Other people in the painting seem to be doing something or going somewhere, but the mysterious woman in the black dress is just standing there on the grass. We might not notice her except for the white ruffle on her dress.

There is much more in this painting that is radical for its time, and I will write more about it in another post.

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 AND SPRINGTIME IN PONTOISE

Factor on the Banks of the Oise 1873 Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown (MA) PDR 300

Factory on the Banks of the Oise 1873
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown (MA) PDR 300

This painting is one of Pissarro’s most famous and well-loved paintings. Fortunately, it lives at the wonderful Clark Art Institute and can be seen by the public. If you go to Paris, take the train to Pontoise and visit the Musée Pissarro. The following blog is taken from my book PISSARRO’S PLACES (pissarrosplaces.com).

One warm spring day, Pissarro took his easel to the banks of the Oise river and made a painting that is archetypical of the Impressionist style: the lavish portrayal of sunlight, the consciousness of the changing weather as gray clouds fill the intense blue sky, the presence of modernity in the new factories lining the banks of the Oise River; and the immediacy of the scene that bespeaks en plein air painting.

The painting itself has a classic composition divided almost equally between the sky and the earth, with the river dwindling away on the right side. The water, still as a mirror, reflects the smokestacks and buildings on the other side and connects them with the freshness of the spring flowers in the right foreground. The factory, a distillery, had just been completed in 1872.

One of the old factories still standing on the banks of the Oise.

One of the old factories still standing on the banks of the Oise.

 

 

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).


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PISSARRO’S PLACES


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