Monday, July 8, 2013

Pissarro, Camille

Rabbit Warren at Pontoise, Snow
oil on canvas
59.2 x 72.3 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, IL, USA

"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)

Pissarro, primarily a landscape painter, was a driving force behind the impressionist group shows. Slightly older than the other members of the circle, he made many of the arrangements, reconciled disputes among painters, and contributed a number of canvases to all eight impressionist exhibitions. Pissarro, along with Impressionist painters Monet and Sisley, pursued the theme of snow throughout his career, producing nearly 100 snow paintings. In 1879 France experienced an extraordinarily severe winter, which Pissarro explored in this and other works painted at his home in Pontoise, 30 miles west of Paris along the Seine River.

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.