Posts Tagged 'Venezuela'

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

Camille Pissarro’s Birthday – July 10, 1830

The world thinks of Camille Pissarro as an Impressionist.  And indeed, Cezanne called him “The First Impressionist.”  But long before that, Pissarro was a highly skilled artist. This painting, which is the first listed in the catalogue raisonne (Pissarro-Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, 2005), is dated 1852-54 and was painted in Venezuela. [Earlier works may have been destroyed when Pissarro’s house was occupied by enemy troops during the Franco-Prussian War, 1870]  It clearly demonstrates his knowledge of perspective, figure painting and the effect of brilliant sunlight.

1 plaza mayor

Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas 1852-54 PDR 1 Presidential residence, La Casona, Caracas

Two decades later Pissarro was at the forefront of the Impressionist movement, creating innovative ways of painting. This painting from 1873 was shown at the first Impressionist exhibition. While it uses the effect of sunlight and the clear colors of Impressionism, it is so much more. We barely see the trees and bushes and man because our eyes are captured by the multitudes of lines and angles and the play of color dividing one section from the other. Specifically, we can’t help seeing the giant X created by lines from the treetop on the left through the bushes at center and continuing along the top of the dark orange section. It is crossed by a line from the tree on the right though the center bush and down the other side of the dark orange section. We do not see this as just a reproduction of early morning frost. We see how paint is used on canvass, the contrast of light blue and orange in a geometric grid. This painting may be called Impressionist, but it is no less than an abstract painting.

EPSON MFP image

Hoar-Frost at Ennery 1873 Musée d’Orsay PDRS 285

At the age of 56, Pissarro was working in the Pointilist style and made this painting near his home in Éragny. The melange of dots placed closely together produce the different colors, but that is not what draws your attention.  The sharp geometric structure create color blocks of yellow and green and blue. It is almost irrelevant that a tiny steam engine is pulling a train into our vision. The shapes look like flat puzzle pieces that fit snugly together. To make sure our eyes stay on the color blocks, Pissarro paints in a neutral cloudy sky above with nothing to distract us from the totally abstract design beneath.

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The Dieppe Railway 1886 Philadelphia Museum of Art PDRS 828

In his later years, Pissarro often painted from windows in order to protect his eye which frequently became infected. He spent winters in Paris in various locations. In 1901, he was living at Place Dauphine on the Île de la Citė where he had a splendid view of the Pont -Neuf leading over to the Samaritaine, the large department store on the Right Bank.  The painting is warm and lush with golden sunlight bathing the buildings and reflections in the turquoise water.

Pont-Neuf-1351

The Pont-Neuf, Afternoon, Sunlight (First Series) 1901 Philadelphia Museum of Art PDRS 1351

The buildings, which should suggest substance and mass, look instead like flat theatrical sets. The road, a flowing mass teeming with carriages and pedestrians, is only contained by the side of the bridge with its familiar circular spaces glistening bright white creating a strong diagonal line from the bottom of the canvas to center right. While we can’t see the other side of the bridge, we do see another glistening white horizontal block which almost meets the diagonal of the bridge, drawing our eyes to the Samaritaine. When we get there, however, there is almost nothing to see, a rather shadowy building, less distinct than the others, and not even flying the flags that were customary over Samaritaine.  Just to balance the strong acute angle and give it stability, Pissarro uses the quai across the river to complete the horizontal. However, he diminishes its importance by making it the same color as the building above it and draws our attention to the reflections in the breathtakingly beautiful turquoise water, which cools down all of the buttery yellow blocks and white hot diagonals.

This painting is clearly a scene we recognize, and it still looks the same today (though some of the Samaritaine buildings were reconfigured under a single facade many years ago). Though this picture is clearly representational, something easily recognized, the power of the abstract geometric elements captures our attention. 

Perhaps as we acknowledge Pissarro as the First Impressionist, we should begin to acknowledge the importance of abstract elements in his paintings. Dana Gordon, a New York City artist, said it first and best:

Pissarro traditionally was known as a great landscapist, a translator of nature into art. Pissarro showed that painting’s basic qualities — colors, brushstrokes, materiality, lines, shapes, composition—were meaningful in their own right, and transformed paint into purely visual poetry. He was, in essence, the first abstract artist.

THE SAME YOUNG PISSARRO –STILL IN VENEZUELA

Landscape with Women under a Large Tree c. 1854-55  PDR 7 Private collection

Landscape with Women under a Large Tree
c. 1854-55 PDR 7
Private collection

The 24-year old artist who painted Landscape with Women under  Large Tree around 1854-55 is the very same one who painted Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas, featured in the previous post.

The differences in the two paintings are obvious.  Market Scene is highly realistic, with hard edges and bright clear colors. The campanile of the cathedral of Santiago in the background is accurate in detail. The cloudless sky is a deep blue, fading just a bit as it touches the rooftops. The rider’s red coat is carefully modeled to give form to his body. The reflection of the brilliant sun on the white awning contrasts with deep shadows that blur the profiles of the two women. The painting is an intentional representation of an actual scene.

The landscape featured in this post could hardly be more different. The painting is a blend of greens, oranges and browns, with only the cloudy sky for escape. The immense tree  almost disappears into the mountains behind it. We would not know where the tree ends and the ground begins were it not for the figures that may or may not be women. Their forms are simply a few blobs of white paint with touches of red complimenting the greens. Our eyes, searching for something recognizable, see an umbrella in the horizontal stroke and believe it is held by a woman.

Detail from Landscape with Women under a Large Tree

Detail from Landscape with Women under a Large Tree

The detail (below) from the center of the tree reveals the artist’s brushwork. (These details were taken from a photograph and only suggest what could be seen on the original painting.) Pissarro used small groups of diagonal strokes to construct the tree. Just above the spiky white form at the bottom, we see groups of light green diagonal strokes and nearby a patch of orange strokes. To the left, larger fatter strokes call attention to a dark area that creates a negative space. Nowhere in this painting do we see a realistic leaf or group of leaves, only groups of brushstrokes. The strokes depicting the treetop silhouetted against the sky are so thin that they virtually dissolve into the gray-white clouds. Near the center top of the trees, some bare limbs are outlined in white. This is the primary clue that the brown, green and orange form might be a tree.

Detail from Landscape with Women under a Large Tree

Detail from Landscape with Women under a Large Tree

Pissarro traveled to Venezuela with his friend Fritz Melbye, who painted native scenes in which different types of trees, bushes and vines can be identified. Pissarro also made some paintings like that as shown in Tropical Forest, Galipan.

Tropical Forest, Galipan c. 1854  PDR 6 Private collection

Tropical Forest, Galipan
c. 1854 PDR 6
Private collection

What then was Pissarro’s intent in painting the tree? Clearly, it was not a painting of the women since they are indistinguishable. He obviously was not recording botanical elements since there are no details of the foliage.

Pissarro downplayed the reality of the scene in order to call attention to the paint—the brushstrokes themselves, the groups of strokes used to construct the forms, the subtle variations in colors—dark greens, medium greens, light gray-greens, burnt orange. If you forget the tree, you see dark spaces invaded on the right by light tans and on the left by light greens.

Look again at the detail above and you see abstract painting similar to that created in the 1950s. Remember: this was 1854-55; Pissarro was only 24 years old, had not yet moved to Paris, and Impressionism was 20 years in the future.

PISSARRO — A YOUNG ARTIST IN CARACAS

Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas 1852-54   PDR 1 Presidential residence, La Casona, Caracas

Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas
1852-54 PDR 1
Presidential residence, La Casona, Caracas

When Pissarro was 22 years old, he left the family home in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and went to Venezuela with his friend, Danish painter Fritz Melbye. The two artists opened a studio where they taught art and sold their paintings. This photo shows the artist dressed in a gaucho costume.

gaucho0001

Pissarro painted the “Market Scene on the Plaza Mayor, Caracas” (1852-54) when he was about 23 years old.  Obviously, he was already an accomplished artist. Painted in a highly realistic style, it shows the large market in the center of Caracas. (This is just the first of many market scenes to be painted by Pissarro during his lifetime.) This painting demonstrates Pissarro’s understanding of perspective. Details of the cathedral tower are visible In the background. In the middle ground is a woman carrying a jug on her head. The focal point is the man in the red poncho on the donkey.  The folds of his poncho and white pants are carefully modeled. His wide-brimmed hat casts a perfect shadow on his left shoulder.

Resting in the shade of a white canopy are two women, with their wares spread out beside them. Interestingly, the color of the canopy’s shadow is gray. Later in his Impressionist years, the artist would banish black from his palette and use blues and purples to paint shadows. The woman on the left is difficult to see in this reproduction of the painting, but there is a drawing Pissarro probably used as a preparatory work. It displays her beauty and Pissarro’s skill as a draughtsman at such an early age.

Drawing-young black woman seated

Just for good measure, here is a another painting made by the 24-year-old Pissarro. It was bought by his friend Melbye and was safe from the war’s destruction. During their stay in Venezuela, Melbye and Pissarro traveled into the mountains and stayed at a small village named Galipan, where Pissarro made drawings of the mountains, the tropical forests, and the people.

5 Hut in Galipan

Even before he was an Impressionist, Pissarro was a talented, proficient artist selling paintings and teaching art. When we group Pissarro with the Impressionists, we tend to forget that he was ten years older than the others. When the 24-year-old Pissarro made these paintings and drawings, Monet was just 14, beginning to draw. No wonder Pissarro led the way to Impressionism and beyond.

CARACAS, VENEZUELA–THROUGH PISSARRO’S EYES

Bridge at Caracas, 1854

Washington DC, National Gallery   Watercolor

 

This watercolor of a stone bridge in Caracas focuses on the carefully described archway in the center. Through the arch, we see the foothills of the mountains beyond. As he does in later pictures of bridges in Rouen, Pissarro shows people on the bridge and others in the valley below, which establish the height of the bridge. The density of the graphite strokes underneath the watercolor, faithfully depicts the solidity and magnitude of the rocky hillsides.

To portray the different facets of the rock, Pissarro uses parallel strokes, most evident on the left side where the color is lighter. They closely resemble the natural layers found in rock and provide a strong contrast to the blocks of stone used to create the arch of the bridge. The skill he displayed in this simple watercolor demonstrates that Pissarro was a highly competent artist long before the birth of Impressionism.

 


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