Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
THE ELDER IMPRESSIONIST: Claude Monet might be renowned as the most famous Impressionist, but Camille Pissarro is often considered the father-figure of the movement.
At least a decade older than the majority of his colleagues (Degas born in 1834 an exception), he was the only member who displayed his works in all eight of the Impressionists exhibitions, countering the establishment supported Salon that then dominated French art. He also was on good terms with his artistic colleagues, encouraging and mentoring a number of artists including Paul Cezanne and Paul Gauguin (who also exhibited with the Impressionists). In addition, Pissarro temporarily adopted the style of the Neo-Impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac.
So here is a visual mini-capsule of a few of the artistic highlights of his life and career, culminating with a jewel of Impressionism, created in his later years.
Pissarro originally came from the West Indies, born on the island of St. Thomas in 1830. His TWO WOMEN CHATTING BY THE SEA, ST. THOMAS is one of the artist’s earliest works, capturing the haunting landscape of his native land.
By 1868, Pissarro had settled in France, ultimately moving to the countryside near Paris, where he depicted LANDSCAPE AT LES PATIS, PONTOISE, emphasizing the natural earth tones of the fertile fields and verdant trees.
Though, in 1872, when ORCHARD IN SPRING, LOUVECIENNES was created, Pissarro was already working in what is now called Impressionism: evident in the distinctive, individual brushstrokes defining the white blossoms of the orchard trees, bathed in the warm sunlight of a spring day.
Pissarro was also drawn to the local peasants, who were his neighbors, often immortalizing them in scenes like YOUNG PEASANT GIRLS RESTING IN THE FIELDS NEAR PONTOISE of 1882.
And the members of Pissarro’s own family were sometimes the subjects of mixed media works like THE CHILDREN done in 1880. Several of his seven children would pursue their father’s profession!
Pissarro was about 70 when he painted PLACE DU CARROUSEL, a favorite of mine, currently on view at the National Gallery of Art. Some of Pissarro’s most memorable Impressionist works were done in Paris near the end of his life. His health was the main factor; an eye ailment prevented him from painting outside, so he moved to the capital where he worked from hotel rooms.
During this period of his late 60s and early 70s, Pissarro’s output was prolific, producing some numerous views of the streets, parks, and bridges of Paris during the changing seasons. Although the time of year is not specifically identified in PLACE DU CARROUSEL, would you say it is either late spring or early summer? Notice the freshness of the greens of the trees, ranging from dark to light, rendered with delicate, expressive touches of the brush. The atmosphere clear with some clouds that seem to be suspended above. The inhabitants of Paris are out and about, either strolling in the foreground area of the Tuileries Gardens, a few protected by the blue-gray shadows of the trees–or traveling in their carriages just behind.
Yet, they are represented by tiny specks of paint, secondary to the panorama surrounding them. Painted from a hotel in the rue de Rivoli, in the heart of Paris, Pissarro offers us one of the most spectacular visions of the historic city. The Place du Carrousel itself is in the middle section of the painting, distinguished by a prominent arch rising in what was once a parade grounds (note: carrousel translates into military drill). While France’s major museum, the Louvre, is in the distance, monumental in scale.
Fortunately PLACE DU CARROUSEL is in a safe place today, surviving an extraordinary history of intrigue and even danger. For in 1941, it was first in the hands of Third Reich leader and notorious art thief Hermann Goering, then Nazi art dealer Gustave Rochlitz. After the war, it was returned to the Stahl family, the original owners, and eventually purchased in 1949 by Ailsa Mellon Bruce.
In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.