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Artists Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro

Danish-French Painter and Printmaker

Movement: Impressionism

Born: July 10, 1830 - St. Thomas, Danish West Indies

Died: November 13, 1903 - Paris, France

Quotes

"Everything is beautiful, all that matters is to be able to interpret."
Camille Pissarro
"Don't be afraid in nature: one must be bold, at the risk of having been deceived and making mistakes."
Camille Pissarro
"Paint the essential character of things."
Camille Pissarro
"Work at the same time on sky, water, branches, ground, keeping everything going on an equal basis...Don't be afraid of putting on color...Paint generously and unhesitatingly, for it is best not to lose the first impression."
Camille Pissarro
"[we Impressionists were like] mountaineers roped together at the waist."
Camille Pissarro
"Pissarro was like a father to me: he was a man you turned to for advice, and he was something like le bon Dieu."
Paul Cézanne

"It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover to your surprise that you have rendered something in its true character."

Synopsis

The only painter to exhibit in all eight Impressionist exhibitions organized between 1874 and 1886, Camille Pissarro became a pivotal artist and mentor within the movement. While the Impressionists are known for their depictions of city streets and country leisure, Pissarro covered his canvases with images of the day-to-day life of French peasants. His greatest work joins his fascination with rural subject matter with the empirical study of nature under different conditions of light and atmosphere, deriving from intense study of French Realism. Like those of his Impressionist cohorts, his paintings are delicate studies of the effect of light on color in nature. However, he continually sought out younger, progressive artists as colleagues, and his articulation of scientific color theory in his later work would prove indispensable for the following generation of avant-garde painters.

Key Ideas

Pissarro's earliest artistic studies were carried out in Paris, France, and Caracas, Venezuela. In Paris, his artistic education stressed an empirical Realism that carried through his entire career; in Caracas, he studied nature and peasant life under tropical conditions, focusing on the effects of light on color, which he would help theorize as a key Impressionist theme.
Pissarro's art cannot be divorced from his politics. Influenced artistically by the Realist painter Gustave Courbet, Pissarro's paintings dignify the labor of peasants in communal villages, reflecting the socialist-anarchist political leanings that the two artists shared.
Pissarro, working closely with the younger Neo-impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac late in his life, was one of the earliest artists to experiment with color harmonies. In his canvases, complementary colors in broken, dashed brushstrokes weave together to heighten the vibrancy of his compositions. In doing so, they visually embed his peasant figures harmoniously into the landscapes to which they belong and which belong to them, communicating a symbolic link to their terrain largely absent from Impressionist painting.
Unlike the Impressionists who lived in Paris, Pissarro chose to live most of his life in the French countryside, where he received younger artists interested in studying his techniques. More than any other member of the movement, he is known for the gentle demeanor and passion for experimentation that made him an artistic mentor. His longtime collaboration with the young Cézanne, for example, made him an indispensible influence on twentieth-century modernism.

Most Important Art

Hoar Frost, the Old Road to Ennery, Pointoise (1873)
Considered one of Pissarro's masterpieces, Hoar Frost is one of five paintings he exhibited at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Here, a peasant worker traverses a field in Pissarro's hometown at the time, Pointoise. The painting's emphasis on color harmony is an important antecedent to Neo-Impressionist techniques, but his true achievement is bringing a focus on composition to the Impressionist canvas. Cézanne famously said "We must make of Impressionism something solid like the art of the museum" in reference to the movement's lack of underlying structure. Cézanne's mentor Pissarro, however, used tilled fields crossed with foot-trampled paths and regularly spaced trees on a horizon to create a balanced composition. The cool color palette and offset vanishing point fall comfortably into the rhythm of the canvas, directing the viewer's attention to the wandering figure.
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Biography

Childhood

Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro was born to a Jewish-Portuguese family and grew up in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, then the Danish West Indies. His parents, Frederic Pissarro and Rachel Petit, owned a modest general hardware business and encouraged their four sons to pursue the family trade. In 1842, Pissarro was sent away to a boarding school in Passy near Paris, France, to complete his education. His artistic interests began to emerge thanks to the school's headmaster, Monsieur Savary, who encouraged him to draw directly from nature and to use direct observation in his drawings, empirically rendering each object in its truest form. At age 17, Pissarro returned to St. Thomas to immerse himself in the family business; however, the artist quickly tired of mercantile pursuits and continued to draw ship scenes in his leisure time at the shipping docks.

Early Training

In the early 1850s, Pissarro abandoned the family business after meeting the Danish painter Fritz Melbye, following Melbye to Caracas, Venezuela, and committing himself to becoming a painter. This act signals a dedicated independence that Pissarro would never abandon in his career; largely if not entirely self-taught, Pissarro was uncompromising in his commitment to his art, a major factor that contributed to his persistent poverty. By 1855, Pissarro had returned to Paris, where he was exposed to the artwork of Eugène Delacroix, Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Charles-François Daubigny, and Jean-François Millet at the Exposition Universelle and where he began attending private classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1856. He began working with Corot, who encouraged him to submit to the Salon. Taking classes at the Academie Suisse in 1859, Pissarro met Cézanne, who would become one of his closest lifelong friends. In 1861, Pissarro registered as a copyist at the Musée du Louvre, and around this same time he met Julie Vellay, the daughter of a vineyard owner in the Burgundy region. They married in London in 1871, eventually having eight children. His daughter Jeanne-Rachel (nicknamed "Minette") grew ill and died of tuberculosis in 1874 at the age of eight, an event that deeply impacted Pissarro, leading him to paint a series of intimate paintings detailing the last year of her life.

Pissarro began submitting to the Salon in the late 1860s. His landscapes of that decade reflect his profound knowledge of and exposure to the compositional techniques of the eighteenth-century French masters. However, it was in these years that Pissarro also grew close with the Impressionist circle. Keeping a studio in Paris, he preferred to spend his time in Louveciennes, a rural region about 12 miles west of Paris favored by the Impressionists. There, distanced from the urban environment, he painted en plein air, depicting peasant subjects in natural settings and focusing on light effects and atmospheric conditions created by the change of the seasons. These new concerns in his art resulted in a more purely Impressionist mature style. Though Pissarro had work accepted at the official Salon in 1859, he would exhibit at the Salon des Refusés with Edouard Manet's dissident circle in the 1860s, an important antecedent to his contributions to the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874.

Mature Period

Camille Pissarro Photo

The first half of the 1870s is considered the height of Pissarro's career, when he completed some of his most significant pieces, including Hoar Frost, the Old Road to Ennery, Pointoise (1873). Several personal developments contributed to the sophisticated output of his mature period. From 1870 to 1871, he fled to London to escape the chaotic events of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, during which time the majority of his earlier works were destroyed. In London, Pissarro was introduced to Claude Monet, and the two grew to favor J.M.W. Turner's work exhibited at the National Gallery. Daubigny introduced them to the art dealer Paul-Durand Ruel, who would later serve as Pissarro's agent in France. Having returned to Paris, Pissarro and Monet organized the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 at the photographer Felix Nadar's gallery. Though the exhibition was met with harsh criticism and confusion from viewers, Pissarro's contributions received the more thoughtful commentary from writer and art critic Philippe Burty, who noticed the stylistic rapport between the work of Pissarro and Millet. The critic Theodore Duret would reiterate this in personal correspondence with Pissarro. Perhaps most importantly, Pissarro's professional and personal relationship with Cézanne reached its height in the mid-1870s when the two worked together, closely reexamining and reworking Pissarro's paintings from the 1860s.

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Camille Pissarro Biography Continues

Late Years and Death

Camille Pissarro Portrait

By the late 1870s, Pissarro's work revealed conflicting stylistic choices drawing him away from a purely Impressionist aesthetic. As Impressionism became more widely accepted, Pissarro worked to keep his art avant-garde and relevant by testing new theoretical concepts. He and Edgar Degas made prints together based on the compositional techniques used by Japanese woodblock engravers; he also began collaborating with the next-generation Neo-Impressionist painters Paul Signac and Georges Seurat in the mid-1880s. This affiliation with younger artists was due to both political and professional affinity. Aesthetically, Pissarro was interested in the Pointillist technique espoused by these artists for its theoretical basis in color theory, a concept that resonated with his original exposure to empirical drawing as a child and his Impressionist fascination with the effect of light on color. Politically, he was a committed anarchist, and the color harmonies underpinning Pointillism, created by the juxtaposition of complementary colors, were linked in his mind to the utopian promise of social harmony achieved by the union of individuals in an anarchist society.

Though the notion of Pissarro as a political painter is a contested one, events in his personal life bear out his deeply held affiliations. In 1894, after an Italian anarchist assassinated the French president, Pissarro briefly moved his family into exile in Belgium to avoid political persecution. Briefly thereafter, Pissarro fell out with his close friend Degas over the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1906), which began when the French government convicted the Jewish military captain Alfred Dreyfus of treason. When it was discovered that Dreyfus was innocent and that the government chose to cover up their mistake rather than admit their fallibility, the reaction in French society showed a tendency toward anti-Semitism that was intensely troubling to the Jewish Pissarro. Degas was among those whose latent anti-Semitism came to the fore in response to the scandal, to the extent that he would cross the street to avoid his former friend and artistic collaborator. Pissarro died before the Dreyfus Affair was ultimately resolved, but the polarizing incident magnified his dedication to social justice in his final years. He contracted a recurring eye infection late in life that negatively affected his ability to work outdoors, but he continued painting from the windows of his home and certain Parisian hotels. He died of sepsis, or blood poisoning, in 1903 and was survived by his wife and seven children.


Legacy

Pissarro was greatly influenced by the Realist landscapists Corot, Courbet, and Millet and greatly influential to a host of younger painters. As a result, his body of work created a vital bridge between nineteenth- and twentieth-century realism and abstraction, especially within the legacy of French modernist painting. His personal investment in the evolution of aesthetic technique contributed to significant developments in the twentieth-century avant-garde.

In particular, Cézanne famously learned the Impressionist style in the early 1870s by copying a work of Pissarro's when the two were painting together in Louveciennes. It is not a stretch to say this relationship was a pivotal step on the long road that ended with Cézanne becoming the father of twentieth-century modernism. Their artistic interchange lasted for decades, and Cézanne, three years after Pissarro's death, identified himself in a retrospective exhibition as "Paul Cézanne, pupil of Pissarro." Specifically, Cézanne's work shows a willingness to construct a painting not only via the intense study of nature, but also through the manipulation of color to arrive at a "truer" visual image. Gauguin affectionately referred to the "intuitive" nature of Pissarro's art, and Gauguin's frank and naive rendering of French peasants in his early career and Tahitian villagers in his mature work owes to Pissarro's direct, unadorned depictions of the rural countryside.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Camille Pissarro
Interactive chart with Camille Pissarro's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Camille Corot
Gustave Courbet
Jean-Francois Millet

Friends

Claude Monet
Paul Cézanne
Georges Seurat

Movements

Realism
Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro
Years Worked: 1851-1903

Artists

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Georges Seurat
Paul Signac
Alfred Sisley

Friends

Edgar Degas
Mary Cassatt
Paul Cézanne
Georges Seurat

Movements

Pointillism
Neo-impressionism
Post-Impressionism

Useful Resources on Camille Pissarro

Books
Websites
Articles
Audio
Videos
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Camille Pissaro

By Joachim Pissarro

Pissarro

By Richard R. Brettell, Joachim Pissarro, and Guillermo Solana

Camille Pissarro: Impressions of City and Country

By Karen Levitov and Richard Shiff

The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro's Series Paintings

By Richard R. Brettell and Joachim Pissarro

More Interesting Books about Camille Pissarro
Populating the Landscape With Idealism

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
August 4, 2011

The Radical Eye of Impressionism's Patriarch

By Karen Rosenberg
The New York Times
September 14, 2007

The Innovative Odd Couple of Cézanne and Pissarro

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
June 24, 2005

When Paul Met Camille

By Phyllis Tuchman
Artnet
2005

More Interesting Articles about Camille Pissarro
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Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
TheArtStory: Impressionism
Realism
Realism
Realism
Realism is an approach to art that stresses the naturalistic representation of things, the look of objects and figures in ordinary life. It emerged as a distinct movement in the mid-nineteenth century, in opposition to the idealistic, sometimes mythical subjects that were then popular, but it can be traced back to sixteenth-century Dutch art and forward into twentieth-century styles such as Social Realism.
TheArtStory: Realism
Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet
Gustave Courbet was a French painter and chief figure in the Realist movement of the mid-nineteenth century. His paintings often contained an emotional bleakness, and were praised for their precision and use of light. Along with Delacroix, Courbet was a key influence on the Impressionists.
TheArtStory: Gustave Courbet
Neo-impressionism
Neo-impressionism
Neo-impressionism
Neo-Impressionism was an art movement founded by Georges Seurat in the 1880s. It brought a new and quasi-scientific approach to the Impressionists' interests in light and color, along with new approaches to the application of paint, sometimes in dots and dashes. Its followers were drawn to modern urban scenes as well as landscapes and seascapes.
Neo-impressionism
Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat
Georges-Pierre Seurat was a French painter who gave rise to the Post- and Neo-Impressionist artistic styles of the late nineteenth century. Seurat's greatest contribution to modern art was his development of Pointillism, a style of painting in which small dots of paint were applied to create a cohesive image. Combining the science of optics with painterly emotion, Pointillism evoked a visual harmony never before seen in modern art.
TheArtStory: Georges Seurat
Paul Signac
Paul Signac
Paul Signac
Paul Signac was a French painter and significant Post-Impressionist in the late nineteenth century. Along with Georges Seurat he developed the painting style known as Pointillism, in which small and precise dots of color were used to compose a larger, Impressionistic picture.
Paul Signac
Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix was a mid-nineteenth-century French painter and pioneer of European Modernist painting. Known primarily as a Romantic, Delacroix's paintings were passionate in their depictions of love, war and human sensuality, earning the artist both praise and controversy in his time. His preoccupation with color-induced optical effects and use of expressive brushstrokes were crucial influences on Impressionism and Pointillism.
Eugène Delacroix
Camille Corot
Camille Corot
Camille Corot
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was a nineteenth-century French painter and printmaker. Best known for his landscape paintings rendered in a Neo-Classical tradition, Corot's practice of painting outside in the open air was highly influential to many of the French Impressionists.
Camille Corot
Charles-Francois Daubigny
Charles-Francois Daubigny
Charles-Francois Daubigny
Charles-Francois Daubigny, born in Paris to a family of artists, was a landscape painter best known for his riverside scenes. Daubigny was a member of the Barbizon School, a group of artists who preceded and influenced the Impressionists, and a friend of both Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet.
Charles-Francois Daubigny
Jean-Francois Millet
Jean-Francois Millet
Jean-Francois Millet
Jean-Francois Millet was a Realist painter in nineteenth-century France, and a founder of the Barbizon School. He is especially known for his depictions rural life and peasant labor.
Jean-Francois Millet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet was a French artist who helped pioneer the painterly effects and emphasis on light, atmosphere, and plein air technique that became hallmarks of Impressionism. He is especially known for his series of haystacks and cathedrals at different times of day, and for his late Waterlilies.
TheArtStory: Claude Monet
J.M.W. Turner
J.M.W. Turner
J.M.W. Turner
J.M.W. Turner (Joseph Mallord William Turner) was a mid-nineteenth-century British painter and watercolorist. Considered a key forerunner to the French Impressionists and the American Hudson River School of painters, Turner is known in history as "the painter of light." His trademark land- and sea-scapes are categorized as Romantic and Naturalist, given the artist's expressive and poetic application of natural light. Turner was among the last great pre-modern painters.
TheArtStory: J.M.W. Turner
Paul Durand-Ruel
Paul Durand-Ruel
Paul Durand-Ruel
Paul Durand-Ruel was a French art dealer who became the first champion of the Impressionists. His gallery in Bond St showed Monet, Renoir and others to the art world of London, and then further afield in the United States. He was known to support his artists through solo exhibitions and stipends.
Paul Durand-Ruel
Felix Nadar
Felix Nadar
Felix Nadar
Félix Nadar was the popular moniker of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, nineteenth-century French artist, photographer, balloonist and journalist. Nadar was a champion of the Impressionists, best known for his portrait photographs of the significant personalities of Parisian avant-garde.
Felix Nadar
Theodore Duret
Theodore Duret
Theodore Duret
Theodore Duret was a French brandy merchant during the mid-nineteenth century. Able to visit Japan when it was closed to foreigners, he wrote several books about his travels. He was a staunch Republican and defender of the Impressionists.
Theodore Duret
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas was a French Impressionist painter, printmaker and sculptor with an extraordinarily long career from the mid-nineteenth century until after WWI. As one of the original group of Impressionists, although he preferred to be called a Realist, he traveled widely and employed the use of photography in his creative process. He is most renowned for his painting and drawings of ballet dancers in rehearsal and performances in the theatre.
TheArtStory: Edgar Degas
Pointillism
Pointillism
Pointillism
Pointillism is a mode of art-making, first developed in 1880s France, in which all of the paint is applied to the surface as tiny points or daubs of color. Based on the laws of color theory, pointillism relies on the viewer's eye to mix the disparate dots into the lines, shapes, shadings, and color ranges of the full scene.
Pointillism
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
TheArtStory: Paul Cézanne
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
TheArtStory: Post-Impressionism
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one of the leading figures of French Impressionism during the late-nineteenth century. Renoir tended to favor outdoor scenes, gardens bathed in sunlight, and large gatherings of people. Known as a master of light, shadow and color, Renoir was also highly esteemed for his depiction of natural movement on the canvas. In terms of the French Impressionists' lasting popularity and fame, Renoir is perhaps second only to Monet.
TheArtStory: Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Alfred Sisley
Alfred Sisley
Alfred Sisley
Alfred Sisley was an English Impressionist landscape painter who spent much of his life working in France. As an enthusiast of plein air painting, Sisley was among the group of artists that included Monet, Renoir and Pissarro who dedicated themselves to capturing the transient effects of sunlight. He was a true Impressionist and committed landscape painter who never deviated from this style or subject into figurative work like many of his contemporaries.
TheArtStory: Alfred Sisley
Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt was an American painter and printmaker active in France in the late nineteenth century. She was closely associated with Impressionism, and her signature subjects were intimate, domestic scenes of women, mothers, and children.
TheArtStory: Mary Cassatt
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