ArabAd - - CONTENTS - By Mona Iskdan­dar

Camille Pis­sarro, the first of the im­pres­sion­ists

Camille Pis­sarro was a ma­jor fig­ure in the his­tory of Im­pres­sion­ism, con­sid­ered by some as the fa­ther of the French Im­pres­sion­ist Move­ment. He cer­tainly was its dy­namo, em­body­ing its char­ac­ter­is­tics. He was rev­o­lu­tion­ary in por­tray­ing com­mon peo­ple in their nat­u­ral set­tings, with no ar­ti­fice or pomp and was crit­i­cised as ‘vul­gar’ for not ad­her­ing to the style and sub­jects im­posed by the Salon de Paris, then the only venue for young artists, be­fore the ad­vent of gal­leries.

Au­thor and critic Emile Zola wrote: “Camille Pis­sarro is one of the three or four true painters of this day…. I have rarely en­coun­tered a tech­nique that is so sure.” Pis­sarro was a friend and men­tor to many artists as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gau­guin, Claude Monet and Au­guste Renoir. Cézanne called him “the hum­ble and colos­sal Pis­sarro” and “the first of the Im­pres­sion­ists.”

Pis­sarro was born in St Thomas, Vir­gin Is­lands then a Dutch colony. His fa­ther was a mer­chant who mar­ried the widow of his un­cle, caus­ing a scan­dal, and had with her four chil­dren. Pis­sarro was sent to study in Paris in 1842, and re­turn­ing home he worked in his fa­ther’s shop un­til 1853 when he ran away with an artist friend to Venezuela to ded­i­cate him­self to art. His fa­ther then ac­cepted his choice and called him back and sent him in 1855 to Paris to study paint­ing.

Pis­sarro had a kindly and gen­tle na­ture and was very help­ful to other artists. He found art schools in Paris sti­fling and unin­spir­ing, so he asked the French painter Camille Corot, whom he ad­mired, to be­come his teacher. Corot en­cour­aged him to work out­doors, in ‘plein air’. Af­ter a year in Paris, he started leav­ing the city to paint the coun­try­side. Un­like most other artists, he pre­ferred to fin­ish his can­vas out­doors, of­ten in one sit­ting, to cap­ture the light and the at­mos­phere.

With vi­brant strokes he de­picted the peace and fresh­ness of the coun­try­side. His sub­jects were sim­ple and re­stricted, and he achieved a sub­tle in­ti­macy and per­sonal feel­ing for the scene. Typ­i­cal of the im­pres­sion­ist style, he would work in rapid and spon­ta­neous ges­tures, ap­ply­ing pure colours, and clear

hues. His ad­vice to other painters was to “use na­ture as a guide.”

An­other char­ac­ter­is­tic of Im­pres­sion­ism was to spread thick paint and show the brush­strokes (a heresy for the tra­di­tion­al­ists). It re­flected the light, gave strength and a three-di­men­sional ef­fect.

Dur­ing the Franco-prus­sian war in 18701871, Pis­sarro moved to Eng­land where he saw Monet again and dis­cov­ered the English land­scapists Con­sta­ble and Turner. Back in Paris in 1871, he found his home ran­sacked and of the 1500 paint­ings he had left be­hind, only 40 re­mained. Crit­ics feel that the process of the birth of

Im­pres­sion­ism was lost with these paint­ings, which were used by Ger­man sol­diers as floor mats.

When the Im­pres­sion­ists had their first ex­hi­bi­tion in 1874, crit­ics were hor­ri­fied. They found the sub­jects too com­mon and the can­vases, with their heavy paint and bright colours coarse and un­re­fined. The young artists prided them­selves in work­ing fast to catch the first im­pres­sion.

The sec­ond ex­hi­bi­tion in 1876 had mixed re­views. One critic wrote: “Try to make Mon­sieur Pis­sarro un­der­stand that trees are not vi­o­let, the sky is not the colour of but­ter...”. How­ever, a more pos­i­tive critic wrote: “Camille Pis­sarro has been a rev­o­lu­tion­ary through the re­vi­talised work­ing meth­ods with which he has en­dowed paint­ing,” and an­other wrote “Rather than glo­ri­fy­ing … the rugged ex­is­tence of the peas­ants, he placed them …in their ha­bit­ual sur­round­ings, thus be­com­ing an ob­jec­tive chron­i­cler of one of the many facets of con­tem­po­rary life.”

Around 1885, Pis­sarro dis­tanced him­self from Im­pres­sion­ism, which he felt had served its time. This fas­tened the demise of Im­pres­sion­ism. Af­ter meet­ing Ge­orges Seu­rat and Paul Signac, he learnt the art of Poin­til­lism, where small patches or dots of con­trast­ing pig­ments, placed next to each other would be per­ceived by the retina as a sin­gle hue. In 1889, he moved away from Poin­til­lism, find­ing it too slow and too ar­ti­fi­cial, and went back to the spon­ta­neous method and into Neo-im­pres­sion­ism and Post-im­pres­sion­ism. Af­ter Poin­til­lism, his style be­came more mas­ter­ful.

In 1892, he had a suc­cess­ful ex­hi­bi­tion, which gave him for the first time fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity. He suf­fered from an eye in­fec­tion that made it dif­fi­cult for him to paint out­doors, so he be­gan work­ing from win­dows of ho­tel rooms in Paris and other cities. He would paint in se­ries, the same scene at dif­fer­ent times of the day and dif­fer­ent sea­sons. Al­ways pro­lific, he be­came a distin­guished and un­ri­valled painter of the cityscape. These works were sim­ple, pow­er­ful, vi­brant, and yet calm.

Al­most all his life, Pis­sarro suf­fered fi­nan­cially, and partly for this rea­sons, he set­tled out­side the city with his wife (his mother’s maid whom he mar­ried in1871 and with whom he had eight chil­dren). Alive, he sold few paint­ings, but in 2014, a paint­ing went for a record £19.9 mil­lion. He fi­nally gained es­teem and in­flu­enced younger artists and helped form the avant-garde move­ment of the 20th cen­tury.

Le Haure, Morn­ing, sun… (1903)

Young Peas­ant with Straw Hat (1881)

Pick­ing Peas (1887)

The Road to Ver­sailles Snow (1870)

The Mar­ket in Gisors (1895)

The Lit­tle Coun­try Maid (1882)

Young Girl with Stick (1881)

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