Posts Tagged 'Seurat'

PISSARRO and Pointillism

662 Breakfast, Peasant Girl

Young Peasant Girl Having Café au Lait, 1881, The Art Institute of Chicago, PDRS 662

 

Pissarro, like most other artists studied the color division theories of Chevreul, so he knew how to divide local (or normal) color into its different parts to increase its brilliance.  And he knew that colors placed side-by-side produce reflections on each other. It is no surprise then that in 1881, when Ogden Rood’s book, “Modern Chromatics: Students’ Text-Book of Color,”  was translated into French, Pissarro would take note of what Rood said about color division:

The effect referred to takes place when different colours are placed side by side in lines or dots, and then viewed at such a distance that the blending is more or less accomplished by the eye of the beholder. . . . If the coloured lines or dots are quite distant from the eye, the mixture is of course perfect, and presents nothing remarkable in its appearance.*

That same year, he painted “Young Peasant Girl Having Cafe au Lait” (1881) [PDRS 662], a study in the optical mixing of colors and reflections.  The blue-green on the wall behind her is reflected on the shoulder and sleeve of her pink blouse in tiny dots.  Her dark blue skirt is reflected on the front of her blouse, and the pink of her long sleeve is reflected in the skirt at the bottom of the canvas. The brushstrokes are tiny and many are criss-crossed.

All of this happened in 1881, four years before Pissarro met Seurat, years before pointillism became a painting technique, and well before the word, Neo-Impressionism was invented by art critic Félix Fénéon. Though he graciously gave Seurat all the credit for “inventing” the new scientific technique of painting, he had been experimenting with it years before!

* Rood, O. N. (1879). Modern Chromatics. London, C. Kegan Paul & Co., 279-80.

[This is a small segment from my upcoming book, ABSTRACT PISSARRO.]

 

 

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.

 

800 detail to use

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.

830 Paysannes Ramassant des Herbes, Eragny 1886

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

857 Detail

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.

1018 Effet de neige a eragny 1894

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.

PISSARRO — ALWAYS MOVING FORWARD

View of the Village of Éragny 1885   PDR 790 Birminghaam (AL) Museum of Art

View of the Village of Éragny, 1885,  PDR 790,  Birminghaam (AL) Museum of Art

This wonderful view of the village of Éragny is in the collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama.  Recently, I had an opportunity to see the painting in person and study it closely. You would be deceived if you think this is simply a lovely landscape. Like so many of Pissarro’s paintings, there is a lot more to it than that.

Camille Pissarro and his family had just moved to Éragny in April of 1884. Delighted with new topographical subjects, he painted through the snowy winter. When he made this panoramic landscape in the early spring of 1885, he seemed to be taking the measurements of this new location. The current photo of Éragny (below) shows that it has changed little since he lived there.

Rue Camille Pissarro Éragny sur Epte

Rue Camille Pissarro
Éragny sur Epte

To get the view in the painting, Pissarro crossed the road (now Rue Camille Pissarro) in front of his house and walked beyond the houses on the other side to look back at the village. All the local landmarks are visible. In the center of the painting, the steeple of the church at Éragny pierces the sky. The current photograph below shows that the steeple is quite high, especially for a church that small (the two sections in front of the steeple are recent additions). It appears that Pissarro gave the steeple in his painting some added height, perhaps to take it above the row of trees in the background and make it easier for us to see. To the left are the towers of the large manor house which dates from the sixteenth century and was built for the lord of Éragny (see the current photograph below).  

         Church at Éragny  Eragny chateau

This painting is one of those by Pissarro that can be viewed at many levels. The very casual observer might barely slow down, labeling it as a pleasant picture of a peaceful village. Others might do as we just did, examine the picture for landmarks and try to feel a sense of the village and the bare fields pictured there.

But there is so much more to see. Pissarro saw the “skeleton” of the view and responded with what look like broad swaths of color in the foreground. Near the bottom, a darker area, then a lighter green strip, and a reddish section, which could have been newly-plowed ground preparing for spring planting. It leads our eyes on the right to the small wooden fence which stretches across the width of the canvas. The regularity of the horizontal lines is then interrupted by the jumble of houses lining both sides of the main street. Except for Bazincourt in the distant middle ground, there are fields leading to the horizon lined with tree tops.

What Pissarro does within these designated spaces is the most interesting of all and can easily be seen in the dark area at the bottom. He achieves the color and texture by placing small patches of color side by side, varying the mix to make it darker or lighter.

This looks like pointillism, and in fact Pissarro had come to his own interpretation of pointillism before ever meeting Georges Seurat.  For years, he had been interested in the division of color and had been reading the scientific writings of Michel Eugène Chevruel and Ogden Rood, an American scientist. When he met Seurat a few months after making this painting, he was excited to find someone else who shared his interest in color. 

This is just another example of how Pissarro was always ahead of his time, pushing forward, investigating, experimenting, innovating. In fact, if you mentally eliminate the village from this painting, it would almost look abstract.



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