Saturday, February 1, 2014

Pissarro, Camille

Apple Picking at Eragny-sur-Epte
oil on canvas
73 x 60 cm
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, Texas, USA

In the 1880's Pissarro moved from Pontoise to nearby Osny, and then to Eragny, a small village much further from Paris. In 1885, at a time when he was dissatisfied with his work, he met both Signac and Seurat. He was fascinated by their attempts to replace the intuitive perceptions of the Impressionists with a scientific study of nature's phenomena and by a "divisionist" technique based on optical laws. Despite the fact he had reached his middle fifties, he did not hesitate to join the two young innovators. The following year he passed this new concept on to Vincent Van Gogh who had just arrived in Paris and was keen to learn of the most recent developments in art.

"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.