I have always enjoyed Impressionism. As a child, I was drawn to the bright colors and seemingly random scatter that somehow became a coherent image from far away. As I’ve grown up and frequented art museums, I have also come to admire the perseverance of the Impressionist artists in the face of rejection from the Salon and popular culture, and their confidence in themselves. I have always loved Monet, who I heard about a lot at art auctions my parents would attend, or Degas, whose paintings hung in my ballet studios growing up. I wanted to learn more about a less familiar Impressionist artist, so I chose Camille Pissarro, after a bit of preliminary research.
I primarily used John Rewald’s book “Camille Pissarro” in my research, which I selected randomly; I later discovered Rewald is quite a respected art historian. Rewald calls Pissarro the “dean of Impressionist painters…by virtue of his wisdom and his balanced, kind, and warmhearted personality”. Pissarro was born in 1830 on St. Thomas (Danish nationality), making him the oldest of the group of Impressionist painters. As Rewald writes, Pissarro meets Monet in London through Paul Durand-Ruel who is a pivotal Impressionist art dealer. With Monet, he studied English landscapes and learned a “looser technique and greater lightness of color” (14). During this time, “neither he nor his comrades [Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Cezanne, Degas] succeeded in having their works accepted by the jury of the Salon, which scorned their bright colors, their unconventional technique and their lack of rigid contours”. (15)
“Two Women Chatting by the Sea” was painted in 1856, and depicts an image from St. Thomas. As one of Pissarro’s earlier works, he was influenced by Danish artist Fritz Melbye who lived on St. Thomas and guided Pissarro. He first developed his love of art when he was sent to boarding school at age 12 in Paris, but was persuaded into becoming a full-time artist by Melbye. This was painted one of the last times he was home in St. Thomas, before permanently moving away.
“The Garden of Les Mathurins at Pontoise” was finished in 1876. This painting is noted for being one of the first to definitively divide color.
Pont Boieldieu in Rouen, Rainy Weather was painted in 1896. This painting, painted in Pissarro’s later years, shows his move away from only painting traditional landscapes, and transition to also painting the movement of cities. Pissarro himself describes this painting: “The theme is the bridge near the Placede la Bourse with the effects of rain, crowds of people coming and going, smoke from the boats, quays with cranes, workers in the foreground, and all this in grey colors glistening in the rain…what particularly interests me is the motif off the iron bridge in wet weather with all the vehicles, pedestrians, workers on the embankment, boats, smoke, haze in the distance; it's so spirited, so alive.” Pissarro painted this from inside the Hotel de Paris in Rouen, where his room overlooked this view. He started having eye trouble and thus, difficulty painting out in the open in the 1890s, so this was likely the reason he painted this from behind a closed window. However, as obvious, his work does not show any of these eye troubles; in fact, according to Rewald, “Pissarro himself considered some of his last works the best he had ever done” (18).
Rewald, John. “Camille Pissarro”. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.
Group blog of Art History students at the Barstow School, http://my-kid-could-paint-that.blogspot.com/2012/02/garden-of-les-mathurins-at-pontoise.html
Bernier, Ronald. Monument, moment, and memory: Monet's cathedral in fin de siècle France Bucknell University Press, 2007. pg. 36
Art Gallery of Ontario: Selected Works. Art Gallery of Ontario, 1990 pg. 143