Pissarro, Camille

views updated May 17 2018


PISSARRO, CAMILLE (1830–1903), French painter.

A key figure in both the impressionist and post-impressionist movements, Jacob-Abraham-Camille Pissarro is best known for his versatility as an artist and for his landscapes, his views of provincial towns and peasants at work, and his townscapes of Paris, Rouen, and other French cities. The only artist to participate in all eight impressionist exhibitions, he maintained relationships with artists of both movements and mentored younger artists, including Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and Paul Gauguin (1848–1903). His political and social opinions were radical, and he openly sympathized with anarchism.

Pissarro was born on 10 July 1830 on St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies. His parents, Frédéric Pissarro and Rachel Petit, were of French Jewish origin and earned a comfortable income as merchants. Between 1842 and 1847, young Pissarro attended the Pension Savary in Passy, outside Paris. He received instruction in art and frequented the Louvre. Some contemporaries, including his friend Cézanne, and modern scholars contend that Pissarro's independence and originality as an artist stemmed in part from his lack of exposure to the Parisian art world or the Academy. Pissarro returned to St. Thomas in 1847 and worked unhappily in the family business until 1852. Meanwhile, he began sketching nearby scenes. Around 1850, he met the Danish artist Fritz Melbye (1826–1896), received more instruction, and decided to be an artist. Between 1852 and 1854, he lived in Caracas with Melbye and completed drawings, watercolors, and oils. Characteristic subjects included views of marketplaces, studies of females, landscapes, and genre scenes. After another year working in the family business, Pissarro departed for Paris in 1855 and began his artistic career.

In Paris, Pissarro continued his training and enjoyed initial success, including exhibiting eleven works at seven Salons between 1859 and 1870. He attended classes at the École des Beaux-Arts, copied paintings in the Louvre, and attended the Académie Suisse. He met Claude Monet (1840–1926), Cézanne, and other aspiring painters. Works from this period reflect the influence of the Barbizon painters, particularly Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875), who advocated painting out-of-doors. Frequently on the move, Pissarro lived and worked both in Paris and a series of provincial towns, like Louveciennes and Pontoise, the latter the subject of important paintings. Landscapes, like The Banks of Marne at Chennevières

(1864–1865), provincial townscapes like The Hillsides of the Hermitage, Pontoise (1867), and numerous views of Louveciennes illustrate how Pissarro developed an individual style. Works exhibited at the Salon won praise, particularly from novelist and critic Émile Zola (1840–1902). Pissarro joined Monet and other young artists in critiquing what they considered the stranglehold then held by the Salon on French art. Meanwhile he commenced a relationship with Julie Vellay, with whom he had eight children; the two did not marry until 1871.

After the Franco-Prussian War began in 1870, Pissarro left for London, where he joined Monet and met the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831–1922). He returned to France in 1871 and found that his house had been looted by Prussian soldiers, who had destroyed many paintings. Although he lived mostly in Pontoise during the 1870s, he continued his practice of painting in a variety of locales, including Paris. It was there that Pissarro, in collaboration with Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), and other painters discontent with the official salon, formed the "Société anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs, etc." and staged the first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874. He contributed five paintings, mostly of rural and provincial subjects, including The Chestnut Trees at Osny (1873). Pissarro helped organize the other seven impressionist exhibitions, and he exhibited in each of them, even as artists like Monet, Renoir, and Cézanne ceased to show and younger artists like Gauguin began participating. During the 1870s, Pissarro and Cézanne worked closely together and influenced each other's artistic development.

In 1884 the Pissarros moved to Eragny-sur-Epte, and his career took a new direction, one influenced by neo-impressionism and artists like Georges Seurat (1859–1891) and Paul Signac (1863–1935). He briefly experimented with pointillism. At the eighth and final Impressionist Exhibition (1886), he showed nine oils and a number of drawings and prints, including the pointillistic View from My Window, Eragny (1886–1888). Paintings from this decade include railway views, images of peasants at work, and depictions of provincial marketplaces.

During the 1890s, Pissarro undertook a series of urban paintings and expressed forcefully his long-held sympathy for anarchism. He subscribed to anarchist publications like Jean Grave's La Révolte, shared the anarchist's disdain for the state and its institutions, bourgeois society, organized religion, and exploitive capitalism, and expressed sympathy for the oppressed, the poor, and the outcast. There also is pictorial evidence, like Apple Picking at Eragny-sur-Epte (1889), that he valued the work of the rural peasant over that of the urban factory worker. Rarely, however, did Pissarro's political beliefs directly influence his art. An important exception is the Turpitudes sociales (Social turpitudes), a collection of sketches and anarchist texts he sent to his niece Esther Isaacson in about 1890. These images critiqued the greed of capitalism and depicted the oppression of workers and the poor. In 1892 a successful retrospective of Pissarro's work took place at the Durand-Ruel Gallery.

Beginning about 1892, Pissarro painted over three hundred urban scenes, especially the streets of Georges-Eugéne Haussmann's transformed Paris, the streets and harbor of Rouen, and harbor scenes of Dieppe and Le Havre. Pissarro often painted these scenes from an elevated viewpoint, perhaps because of his chronic eye disease or an aversion to urban noise and congestion. As paintings like Avenue de l'Opéra: Sunshine, Winter Morning (1898) or The Boieldieu Bridge, Rouen, Damp Weather (1896) make evident, Pissarro's treatment of urban topography and life is dispassionate and detached. Pissarro died in Paris on 13 November 1903, and he is buried with much of his family in the cemetery of Père Lachaise.

See alsoAnarchism; Cézanne, Paul; Gauguin, Paul; Impressionism; Monet, Claude; Painting; Paris; Seurat, Georges.


Primary Sources

Bailly-Herzberg, Janine, ed. Correspondance de Camille Pissarro. 5 vols. 1980–1991. Available only in French.

Pissarro, Camille. Camille Pissarro: Letters to His Son Lucien. Edited John Rewald with Lucien Pissarro. 3rd ed., rev. and enlarged. Mamaroneck, N.Y., 1972.

Secondary Sources

Brettell, Richard R., with Joachim Pissarro. Pissarro and Pontoise: The Painter in a Landscape. New Haven, Conn., 1990. A pioneering scholarly study.

——. The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro's Series Paintings. Edited by Mary Anne Stevens. New Haven, Conn., 1992. Well-illustrated exhibition catalog.

Pissarro, Joachim. Camille Pissarro. New York, 1992. Beautifully illustrated account of his life and work.

Shikes, Ralph E., and Paula Harper. Pissarro: His Life and Work. New York, 1980. A comprehensive biography.

Robert W. Brown

Camille Pissaro

views updated May 17 2018

Camille Pissaro

The French painter Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was one of the original impressionists. Although his work is generally less innovative than that of his major contemporaries, it is no less important in reflecting the new style.

Camille Pissarro was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, on July 10, 1830. His father, a Portuguese Jew, ran a general store. Although Pissarro attended school in Paris and demonstrated an exceptional talent for drawing, he returned to St. Thomas in 1847 to work in the family business. During the ensuing years his interest in art persisted, and in 1855 his parents finally yielded to his ambition to become a painter.

Pissarro reached Paris in time to see the important World's Fair of 1855. He was particularly impressed by the landscapes of Camille Corot and other members of the Barbizon group, who had taken the first steps toward working directly from nature, and by the ambitious and forthright realism of Gustave Courbet, although his own work increasingly gravitated toward landscape rather than figurative subjects.

During the next 10 years Pissarro received some academic training at the école des Beaux-Arts, but he spent most of his time at the Académie Suisse, where free classes were offered. This was an important gathering place for those artists whose ambitions and sensibilities lay outside the teaching of the official schools, for it offered greater opportunity to discuss and develop personal ideas about painting and art in general. In this setting Pissarro became friends with Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Paul Cézanne, who were seeking alternatives to the established methods of painting. Pissarro's works at this time were occasionally, though by no means consistently, accepted at the annual Salons. More importantly, however, he received critical backing and encouragement from émile Zola.

During the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-1871 Pissarro and Monet went to London, where they were impressed by the landscape paintings of John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. By this time Pissarro and Monet had begun to work directly from nature and to develop the unique style that would later be called impressionism. In their pursuit of this new and revolutionary direction, the lessons of the earlier English landscapists provided crucial and much-needed support, particularly in terms of the loose handling of paint, the abstractness, and the strong response to nature which characterized their own paintings. When Pissarro returned to his home at Louveciennes near Paris, he found that the Prussians had destroyed nearly all of his paintings.

By the early 1870s the work of Pissarro and his colleagues had been rejected by the Salon on repeated occasions. In 1874 they held their own exhibition, a show of "independent" artists. This was the first impressionist exhibition (the term "impressionist, " originally used derisively, was actually coined by a newspaper critic). There were seven similar exhibitions until 1886, and Pissarro was the only artist who participated in all eight. This fact is important because it reveals something about Pissarro's relation to impressionism generally: he was the patriarch and teacher of the movement, constantly advising younger artists, introducing them to one another, and encouraging them to join the revolutionary trend that he helped to originate.

In 1892 there was a large retrospective of Pissarro's work, and he finally gained the international recognition he deserved. Characteristic paintings are Path through the Fields (1879), Landscape, Eragny (1895), and Place du Théâtre Français (1898). He died in Paris on Nov. 12, 1903.

Further Reading

Pissarro is the subject of critical analysis in these works by John Rewald: Camille Pissarro (1963), a monograph on the artist; C. Pissarro (1965), an exhibition catalog; and The History of Impressionism (1961), in which Pissarro's role in the development of impressionism is well documented.

Additional Sources

Adler, Kathleen, Camille Pissarro: a biography, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978, 1977.

Cogniat, Raymond, Pissarro, New York: Crown Publishers, 1988, 1981.

Lloyd, Christopher, Camille Pissarro, Geneva: Skira; New York: Rizzoli, 1981.

Pissarro, Camille, Camille Pissarro, New York: H.N. Abrams, 1989.

Pissarro, Camille, Pissarro, New York: Crown Publishers, 1975.

Shikes, Ralph E., Pissarro, his life and work, New York: Horizon Press, 1980. □

Pissarro, Camille

views updated May 29 2018


PISSARRO, CAMILLE (1830–1903), French painter. Born into a Sephardi family which had migrated from Bordeaux to the Virgin Islands, he was sent to a boarding school in Paris at the age of 12. At 17 he returned to St. Thomas to become a clerk in his father's general store, but he wanted to be an artist, and ran away to Caracas, Venezuela. After a while he obtained his father's permission to study in France, and from 1855 until his death, he remained in, or near, Paris.

With his socialist-anarchist convictions, he regarded himself a citizen of the world, with no particular religious, racial, or national ties. His wife was of Catholic peasant stock. He was shocked and hurt by the *Dreyfus case, but more as a man of progressive political ideals than as a Jew. Pissarro became a staunch member of a loosely organized group that came into being in 1874 under the name of "Société anonyme des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs, et graveurs" which soon became better known as the "Impressionists." He participated in all of the Impressionists' eight group shows, received his share of abuse from public and press, and held the group together until 1886, after Cézanne, Renoir, and even the prime mover, Monet, had lost interest.

He took his guidance from Corot and Courbet, blending Corot's subtlety of atmospheric effect with the strength and solidity of Courbet. In 1865 he came under the spell of Manet. By that time he had already eliminated black and the siennas and ochers from his palette. In his mid-fifties, he was greatly influenced by Georges Seurat's pointillist technique, and for several years he experimented with the "divisionist" method of painting with little dots of primary color. Yet, he is chiefly known for his Impressionist landscapes and cityscapes. Pissarro thought he saw nature objectively but actually he rendered it just as much from feeling and knowledge as from dispassionate sight – rendered it in solidly constructed, architectural forms. Most of his canvases show a definite desire for order and organization, and a feeling for design. His work is uneven – perhaps more uneven than that of other artists, since he was forced to overproduce in his efforts to keep his family of eight from starvation.

All of Pissarro's sons – Lucien (1863–1944), Georges (1871–1961), Félix (1874–1897), Ludovic-Rudolpe (1878–1952), and Paul-Emile (1884–1972) – were gifted artists, but only one, lucien pissarro, achieved a modicum of fame for his Impressionist landscapes and his woodcuts. Lucien played a major part in the introduction of Impressionist painting to England. Educated in France, he was trained by his father and in 1890 went to England, where he met William Morris, Charles Ricketts, and Charles Shannon who interested him in the art of book design. He later set up his own publishing firm, the Eragny Press, and collaborated with his wife in the production of beautifully illustrated books. Among his book productions was The Book of Ruth and Esther. Lucien's daughter Orovida (1893–1968) inherited his talent. She signed her work with her first name, and became known for her studies of animals.


J. Rewald, Pissarro (Eng., 1963); idem (ed.), Camille Pissarro: Letters to his Son Lucien (1943); A. Werner, Pissarro (Eng., 1963); W.S. Meadmore, Lucien Pissarro (Eng., 1962). add. bibliography: T. Maloon, Camille Piscarro (2006).

[Alfred Werner]

Pissarro, Camille

views updated May 23 2018

Pissarro, Camille (1830–1903) French painter who adopted impressionism and tried pointillism. In the 1880s, he experimented with the pointillist theories of Georges Seurat but abandoned them in the 1890s for a freer interpretation of nature. His works include Louvre from Pont Neuf (1902).

http://www.metmuseum.org; http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk; http://www.nga.gov