Posts Tagged 'snow'

PISSARRO – Seeing Paint on Canvas


1305 Tuilleries Snow 1900 2

The Tuileries Gardens, Effect of Snow, 1900, Private collection, PDRS 1305


This beautiful painting could be a snowy field anywhere. There are almost no identifying features. The hazy steeples behind the barren trees provide no clues. It is only because of Pissarro’s title, “The Tuileries Gardens, Effect of Snow,” that we realize this is the center of Paris with the twin steeples of the church of Sainte-Clotilde in the background. (1)

Now that we know the location, we can see outlines of the circular walks in the garden, and sketchy black marks that look almost like people. We realize that the odd post-like figures are actually statues surrounding the snow-covered circular pool. 


Statues in Tuileries

Statues surrounding circular pond in Tuileries Garden, Paris. (2)

Pissarro made this painting in a way that was not representative of the actual site. He intentionally masked identifying features and reduced the distant buildings into hazy outlines. He used the heavy snow to create a painting that is almost abstract.

Let’s try to “un-see” what we now know about the location, and view the painting itself. Pissarro reduces the scene to its basics—two wide bands separated by a narrow grayish strip. The paint in the foreground is heavy, and the brushstrokes are highly visible. The white snow is actually several shades of blue-grey with hints of light coral and pale pink in the center. The colors in the top band are more distinct— pink and white shading into pale blue. Pale grey diagonal lines, almost imperceptible, overlay the entire upper strip.

This painting is a superb example of brushwork–heavy directional strokes in the foreground and delicate lacy strokes above divided by flurries of grey-green strokes in the middle. Pissarro forces us to recognize the brushstrokes for what they are. We have to admit to its materiality—simply paint on canvas. The application of color, the vitality of the brushstrokes, and the reductive composition push this painting toward the abstract. Instead of making a picture, he made a painting. This is Pissarro’s genius.

(1) Pissarro, J. and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts (2005). Pissarro: Catalogue critique des peintures. Milano, Italy, Skira Editore S.p.A., III, 782.

(2) By User:Munford – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, Detail of original photograph.

Pontoise in the Snow as Pissarro Saw It

Rue de Gisors

Rue de Gisors, Effect of Snow, Pontoise, 1873

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA  PDR* 284

The overnight snowfall was still evident as Pissarro set up his easel on the side of the road. Just to the right of the two-wheeled cart, we can easily see the corner of the street where Pissarro lived.

The people of the village are busy with their daily errands as a woman sweeps snow off the sidewalk. Pissarro gives us an accurate sense of the gentle downward slope of the road with the decreasing levels of the rooftops. Even though the dominant colors of the painting are warm pinks and mauves, the cold crispness of the air suggested by the white snow on the roofs is intense.

This scene has hardly changed at all since Pissarro painted it. The pink building now has three stories, but the smaller buildings on that side are still the same and the tall angled roof is still there although it does not seem nearly as high as he portrayed it.

Rue de Gisors today

 This painting is one of 30 featured in the upcoming book,


*PDR refers to the number assigned to this painting in Pissarro:Critical Catalogue by Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Shollaerts (2005).








           What do you think?  Please comment.

One of Pissarro’s most intriguing paintings, Chestnut Trees at Louveciennes, (1872, Paris, Musée d’Orsay, PDR 218*) appears somewhat ordinary on first glance. Unlike most of Pissarro’s paintings, this one has a distinct focal point, a large red brick house right in the center.

The painting gets its name from the curvy chestnut trees that provide a frame around the house.  Indeed, the two trees on the right side appear to be joined together in the arching branches. It is only with a closer look that we determine that the two branches have their own extensions and are not grown together.

The bright winter sun glints pale yellow on the snow-covered ground causing the trees and fence to cast blue shadows across the foreground. The woman and child may be Julie, Pissarro’s wife and their daughter Minette, who would have been six at the time. But we are unable to see their faces clearly.

The choice of motif is interesting in that this house in Louveciennes looks more like the large Victorian houses Pissarro painted in London. The house has mysteries of its own, which are less visible in photographs but quite obvious on the original canvas.

In the area above the little girl’s head and beneath the interlocking tree branches, there is a yellowish-pink color that is totally different from the blue sky and white clouds above. In the space between the white pillar at the back of the house and the little building to the right, we see two dark spots surrounded by a white area. These spots seem similar in size and shape to the small windows on the side of the house. Between the house and the little building are several sketchy marks that suggest the framework of another house, or perhaps an extension between the two buildings—a ghostly apparition.

At this point, we cannot say whether Pissarro intended to do additional work in that part of the canvas. What we do know is that it was in the collection of Dr. Gachet.  Vincent van Gogh saw it in 1890 and wrote his brother Theo that it was a “very fine Pissarro, [a] winter [scene] with a red house under snow.”

*PDR refers to the number of this painting in the Pissarro Critical Catalogue by Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snoellerts, published in 2005.

Pissarro in Montfoucault

He painted the place that time forgot. See the FB page: PISSARRO’S PLACE.


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