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Monday, July 29, 2013

Pissarro, Camille


The Boulevard Montmartre at Night
1897
oil on canvas
53.3 x 64.8 cm
The National Gallery, London, UK

Towards the end of his life Pissarro increasingly turned to the representation of town scenes in Paris, Rouen, Dieppe, Le Havre and London, mainly painted from the windows of hotels and apartments. In February 1897 he took a room in Paris at the Hotel de Russie on the corner of the Boulevard des Italiens and the Rue Drouot, and produced a series of paintings of the Boulevard Montmartre at different times of the day. This painting is the only night scene from this series, and is a masterful rendition of the play of lights on dark and wet streets. Pissarro neither signed nor exhibited it during his lifetime. (National Gallery)

"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)

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.