Thursday, January 3, 2013

Pissarro, Camille

The Seine and the Louvre
oil on canvas
46 x 55 cm
Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

"Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing." (Pissarro)
"He was a father for me. A man to consult and a little like the good Lord." (Cezanne)

After 1893, Pissarro turned away almost entirely from the countryside motifs that had formed the main part of his work. From then on, he devoted himself to depicting urban sites: Paris, Rouen, Le Havre and Dieppe. He preferred to vary his subjects, and unlike Monet, did not study the atmospheric variations of the same motif.

He produced a series of paintings of the Seine and of the Louvre. Sky and water took on a new importance in Pissarro's art during the last ten years of his life, and he seemed to take more interest than before in observing the light. In this canvas, produced in the same year he died, the palette very subtly conveys the atmosphere of a winter's day in a soft light. The composition is tightly constructed with strict lines formed by the Louvre, the Pont des Arts and the outlines of the square. However, the light mist enveloping the landscape softens any rigidity that might have ensued from this construction.

Camille Pissarro (1830 - 1903) was a French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter born on the island of St Thomas (now in the US Virgin Islands, but then in the Danish West Indies). His father was of French-Jewish origin, his mother was a Creole. Pissarro saw a subject and its light source as inseparable. He fought daunting criticism for most of his life, while trying to achieve validation for his revolutionary style. His mature work displays an empathy for peasants and laborers, and sometimes evidences his radical political leanings. He mentored Paul Cezanne and Paul Gaugin when they were aspiring artists, and vastly contributed to Impressionist theory.

His importance resides in his contributions to both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. As a stylistic forerunner of Impressionism, he is today considered a father figure not only to the Impressionists but to all four of the major Post-Impressionists, including Georges Seurat, Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. His influence on his fellow Impressionists is probably still underestimated; not only did he offer substantial contributions to Impressionist theory, but he also managed to remain on friendly, mutually respectful terms with such difficult personalities as Edgar Degas, Cezanne and Gauguin.

Pissarro married Julie Vellay, a maid in his mother's household. Of their eight children, one died at birth and one daughter died aged nine. The surviving children all painted. He died in Paris on 13 November 1903. During his lifetime, he sold few of his oil paintings.