Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was a key member
of the French Impressionist group of painters. He was born in
St. Thomas in the West Indies, where his father was a prosperous
merchant. The Pissarro family, French and Jewish in origin, had
settled in the Danish colony of St. Thomas a few years earlier.
Pissarro received his early education at a boarding school near
Paris where he displayed a talent for drawing. Returning to St.
Thomas, the young man had little interest in the family business,
and spent his time sketching the picturesque port. In 1852, he
left for Venezuela in the company of the Danish painter Fritz
Melbye, and worked as an artist there for two years.
|Barges à La Roche-Guyon, 1865
Musée Pissarro, Pontoise
Pissarro settled in France in 1855. He arrived
in time to see the great Exposition Universelle (World's Fair)
which included a large art section. Following the advice of Corot,
whose landscapes he had admired at the fair, Pissarro was soon
painting and sketching in small towns and villages near Paris,
along the Seine, Oise and Marne rivers. He studied at the Académie
Suisse and formed friendships with Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet,
and other future members of the Impressionist group. By the late
1860s, his powerful realist landscapes were praised by the prominent
critic Emile Zola.
|Lower Norwood Under Snow, 1870
National Gallery, London
Camille to move to England during the Franco-Prussian
War and the Commune (1870-71) and, with Monet, he painted a series
of landscapes around Norwood and Crystal Palace as well as studying
English landscape painters in the museums. On returning home to
Louveciennes at the end of the war a year later, Camille discovered
that only 40 of his 1500 paintings - almost twenty years' work
- remained undamaged.
In the summer of 1871 Camille settled in Pontoise
where he was to remain for the next ten years, gathering a close
circle of friends around him. Cézanne repeatedly came to
stay with him and under Camille's influence learned to study nature
|The Pond at Montfoucault, 1875,
Barber Institute of Arts, UK
These were also the years of the first Impressionist
group exhibitions which were initiated by Monet, but in which
Camille was to play a major role and which earned him much criticism
for his art. While mainly interested in landscape, he liked to
introduce people (generally peasants going about their rural occupations)
and animals into these and they often became the focal point of
the composition. It was this unsentimental and unliterary approach,
and the complete absence of any pretence, that seemed to stop
his work from finding appreciation with the general public.
|Jardin des Mathurins à Pontoise
Always searching for new means of expression,
Pissarro was one of the most innovative of the Impressionists.
He was among the first to divide colors, as in his painting Le
jardin des Mathurins à Pontoise, 1876 (Nelson-Atkins
Museum of Art, Kansas City), where the sunlit path is made up
of brushstrokes of pink, blue, white and yellow ochre. Pissarro
also excelled at drawing; the largest collection of his drawings
is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
One of the few collectors who did show interest
in Camille's work was a bank employee called Paul Gauguin who,
after acquiring a small collection of Impressionist works, turned
to Camille for advice when he decided to become a painter himself.
|Apple Picking at Eragny-sur-Epte
1888, Dallas Museum of Art
In the 1880's Camille 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, followed by his son Lucien. 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 common with many artists and writers of his
day, he became a fervent anarchist. He produced a powerful attack
on French bourgeois society in his album of anarchist drawings,
Turpitudes Sociales, 1889.
Rainy Weather, Afternoon, 1897
Pissarro gradually abandoned Neo-Impressionism
in the 1890s, preferring a style that better enabled him to capture
his sensations of nature, although retaining the lightness and
purity of colour acquired during his divisionist phase. In the
last years of his life Camille divided his time between Paris,
Rouen, Le Havre and his home in Eragny and painted several series
of different aspects of the cities with varying light and weather
effects, while expressing the dynamism of the modern city. Many
of these paintings are considered amongst his best and make a
fitting finale to his long and eventful career.
|Boulevard Montmartre, Night 1897
National Gallery, London
An excellent teacher, he counted among his pupils
and associates the French painters Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne,
his son Lucien Pissarro, and the American impressionist Mary Cassatt.
Camille Pissarro was actively painting up until
the end of his life. When he died in the autumn on 1903 in Paris,
at the age of 73, he had finally gain public recognition.