Life and artwork of Camille Pissarro

Page content: Pissarro and his political views, Camille Pissarro and the "Salon", Time in England, The Impressionism period, The end of Impressionism period and the search of new techniques;

Pissarro and his political views

Unlike Monet, Renoir, Sisley and other budding impressionists whit whom he had remarkable relationship, Pissarro view of the world had become deeply politicized. The glory of the second Empire was skin deep as far as he could see and the dehumanizing effects of rapid industrialization hidden behind were not lost on him. He grew increasingly attracted to the extreme radicalism of Proudhon and Prince Kropotkin.

Proudhon had said that "art should show us exactly as we are, no in mediated fantasy that no longer present us." The artist he had in mind was Courbet. Pissarro was already well acquainted with Courbet's work in the late 1850s. Somewhat anarchic by nature Pissarro began to espouse some of Proudhon's anarcho-federalist ideas. The task of the artist as Pissarro was to say many years after, echoing Proudon, "is to seek with our own senses the elements of what surrounds us. This can only be achieved by observing nature with our own contemporary sensibility. It is a serious mistake to believe that every form of art is not closely linked to its time".

Truly anarchic to the end, Pissarro became more committed to the cause as he approached his seventies. Once he suggested burning down the Louvre. In 1894 his anarchist sympathies forced him to spend four months in Belgium after the knifing to death of President Sadi Carnot by an Italian anarchist. During the Dreyfus Affair, he came out staunchly on Zola's side and against the entrenched anti-Semitism of the French military which had clumsily framed an innocent Jewish captain-of-the-guard and led to his exile and imprisonment.

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Camille Pissarro and the 'Salon'

There had been no Salon in 1860, but after his initial success which had been two years earlier, the vagaries of the Salon were against Pissarro this time. The jury was severe and rejected his entry. Pissarro continued to work in Paris, copying at Louvre and working at the Academie Suisse where he met Paul Cezanne and Armand Guillaumin.

The Salon of 1864 had accepted two landscapes from the artist, described as a pupil of Corot and Melbye, and Pissarro appeared in the salon until rejected along with Renoir, Sisley and Monet in 1867. At this time he began to fall out with Corot who did not approve of the increasing influence of Courbet in Pissarro's work and thereafter Pissarro stopped calling himself a pupil of Corot.

Pissarro worked consistently outdoors at landscapes when he moved with the family in Louveciennes. But kept a studio in Paris and was close to the rapidly growing movement. The Salon was particularly conservative in its selections and Pissarro, one of the many refuses, had joined Renoir, Sisley, Monet, Bazille and Cezanne in signing a petition demanding another Salon des Refuses. The artist was deeply involved in the emerging group and was to play an increasing role in its future development.

The family income was in a crisis, that Camille was occasionally forced to join with Armand Guillaumin decorating shop fronts and blinds.

A calm brief period ensued in Louveciennes, where Pissarro's researches into landscape continued. He was joined by Clode Monet, who had been working with Renoir at le Grenouillere. In the winter of 1869-70 under varying weather conditions both artists painted similar views of the road to Versailles where Pissarro's house stood.

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Time in England

Camille moved with the family in England. Monet was there also. Both artists were very enthusiastic over the London landscapes. Monet worked in the parks while Pissarro studied the effect of fog, snow and springtime. They worked from nature, also visited museums.

The important contact with Durand-Ruel aside, Pissarro's fortunes did not improve in London. The public were not keen to buy his paintings and the Royal Academy's annual exhibition refused both his and Monet's work. Twelve paintings and some studies survive from Pissarro's time in London, ranging from the highly impressionistic 'Fox Hill', 'Upper Norwood' and 'Dulwich College' to the more highly polished 'The avenue, Sydenham', which Durand-Ruel eventually bought in 1871, but which Pissarro must have hoped to sell to the London market.

After the end of the war Pissarro and his family returned to France. What they got there horrified them. The Prussians had commandeered their house and used it as a butchery. Of the 1,500 paintings the artist had stored there, only forty remained; the rest had been ripped from their stretchers and placed on the ground for the soldiers to walk on. The artist found the abused canvases discarded on the compost heap. Undeterred, Pissarro carried on painting as prodigiously as before.

The Impressionism period

The soon to be named Impressionists, including Camille Pissarro were about to launch their first exhibition. He was deeply involved in organizing the new venture and he went on to contribute to all eight of the Impressionists exhibitions.

By the time of the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886 the great teacher was himself in an artistic crisis. The intervening years had seen him contribute to every Impressionist show and often cajole the other members o the group into accepting the works of younger artists such as Gauguin.

The end of Impressionism period and the search of new techniques

At the age of fifty-five Pissarro become a Neo-Impressionist; his anarchism had also become more fervent. In any case this was to last barely five years, and was resisted on the one hand by Durand-Ruel who refused to buy his Divisionist works and the other by Impressionists who were loath to exhibit in the company of Divisionists.

Nevertheless Pissarro secured what amounted to a separate Divisionist Room in the final Impressionist exhibition of 1886, where he, his son Lucien, Signac, and Seurat showed work which attracted both acclaim and horror.

Pissarro's last years were marked by international honor and widespread public acclaim. Of all the Impressionists he was perhaps the most loved and respected by friends, fellow artists and proteges. After Pissarro's death Gauguin said of him, despite the severe criticism he had received from Pissarro: "He was one of my masters. Is cannot renounce him."

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