Impressionism – Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro,  Barges on Pontoise, 1872
Camille Pissarro, Barges on Pontoise, 1872

Camille Pissarro was instrumental in establishing the Impressionists, holding the group together and encouraging individual members. He was the only painter of the group who participated in all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions held in Paris between 1874 and 1886.

It was Pissarro who drafted the convention for the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers) and who was the principal organiser of their first joint exhibition. Consequently, he was regarded as a central figure of the group. Although he was the oldest of the Impressionists, Pissarro never ceased assimilating the work of others and developing his artistic style.

In his early career Pissarro was strongly attracted to the paintings of Realist Camille Corot which he had seen on display at Paris’s Universal Exposition in 1855. (Corot taught him informally, urging him to paint from nature.) He then studied at various academic institutions (including the École des Beaux-Arts and Académie Suisse) where he met future Impressionists Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Armand Guillaumin. Through Monet, he also met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley.

His work was exhibited at the Paris Salon throughout the 1860s until 1870, although in 1863 he participated in the Salon des Refusés with Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and others. During the Franco-Prussian War, Pissarro fled to London where he lived between 1870–71. There he met Paul Durand-Ruel, the Parisian dealer who would become an ardent supporter of Pissarro and his fellow Impressionists. (On his return to France, Pissarro discovered that much of the work in his studio had been destroyed by Prussian soldiers.)

Like his fellow Impressionists, Pissarro painted both urban and rural French life, particularly landscapes in and around Pontoise, as well as scenes from Montmartre, and his mature work displayed an empathy with peasants and labourers. Working  closely en plein  air with Monet, Renoir, and Sisley, he revised his method of landscape painting (from his earlier Realist influences), changing the way in which he used colour and applied patches of paint.

Pissarro was also a strong influence on other artists. He was an astute judge of young talent and in 1872 gathered a small circle of painters around him, demonstrating his method of painting patiently from nature.  Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Signac and Matisse all benefited from his generous encouragement and advice. (Pissarro also later adopted the pointillist style of Seurat.)    These sessions caused Cézanne to change his entire approach to art. In 1902 he said of his mentor “As for old Pissarro, he was a father to me, a man to consult and something like the good Lord“. Renoir referred to his work as “revolutionary“, through his artistic portrayals of the “common man“, as Pissarro insisted on painting individuals in natural settings without “artifice or grandeur“.

Art historian John Rewald called Pissarro the “Dean of the Impressionist paintersby virtue of his wisdom and his balanced, kind, and warmhearted personality“.

You can see Pissarro’s Impressionist style in  Barges on Pontoise, 1872 and Houses at Bougival, Autumn, 1870, where he has used a variety of brush strokes in different sections of the works.

This is an excerpt from my online modern art appreciation program http://www.modernartappreciation.com

In my next blog there will be more landscapes, this time by Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley.

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