Technique, style and method of Camille Pissarro

Style and method

Pissarro's career was indeed a long and arduous search for the perfect method of expressing himself and his ideas. Younger painters, beginning with Cezanne in 1882, Gauguin in 1877, and later Matisse and Picabia sought him out. Cezanne revered him, saying he was like father to him. Mary Cassatt thought he was such a great teacher he could have taught the stones to draw.

From his earliest drawings in St Thomas to his death in 1903, Pissarro's style and method were in continual state of flux. As the art historian Jonh House has said, "to chart Pissarro's stylistic evolution.. we meet in turn Corot, Daubigny, Courbet, Jongkind, Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Millet, Seurat, Turner, and Monet again." Although he was the oldest of the Impressionists, Pissarro never ceased assimilating the work of others in an artistic evolution which is unparalleled among his contemporaries.

In the late 1850s and early 1960s the Salon and French art world were in a deep debate about the acceptability of Daubigny's sketchy 'plein-airisme' and the consequences of Courbet's realism. Having succeeded on the much safer ground of Corot, Pissarro then began to appreciate the attempts made by Daubingy and Courbet to paint what they saw and wanted to see. At the age of twenty-nine Pissarro met Monet, and soon became part of a new generation of artists fired by the example of Courbet and Daubigny, inpatient with the academic landscape.

Pissarro's painting from the nature

Pissarro's talent clearly lay in the reality of nature and agriculture, in landscapes with figures - what one critic has called humanist landscape - not social realism, although the two could combine successfully to a certain extend in his 'Railway bridge at Ponoise' (Le pont de chemin de fer a Pontoise) of 1860, and yet prove stilted and sentimental in 'Donkey ride at la Roche-Guyan' (Promenade a l'ane a la Roche-Guyon).

Camille Pissarro in England

The result in artistic terms of Pissarro's exile in London, was a freer handling of brighter pigments, using the softly applied patches of color which Monet had been developing since La Grenouillere and was now employing to great effect in his views of the Thames. Compared to Monet, who was now beginning to approach Impressionism 'par excellence', Pissarro's ongoing debt to the first of his mentors, Corot, as well as to Daubigny and Corbet is still evident in 'The avenue, Sydenham'. Solidity and consonance of composition characterize his work in comparison to Monet's search for "fugitive effects" in light and water.

In search of something new, Pissarro's neo-Impressionist, Pointilist and Divisionist period

Meanwhile Pissarro's interest in the human figure, especially the peasant women who where so much a part of the landscape, had come to dominate his work as fundamental expression of his humanism. The web of comma-like brush-strokes which had now become his trademark seemed to have reached its logical conclusion and he was looking for a new ways of painting. Impressionism seemed to have had its day; Renoir for example had recently found himself in a similar stylistic dead-end and was developing an overtly linear, Neo-Classical style; years before, Cezanne had abandoned a softer vision of the world and was absorbed in lines, volumes and planes.

Pissarro met the young Georges Seurat who was developing a new technique, Divisionism, based on several theories. Pissarro had too read the new colour theories proposed by the American colour theorists Charles Henry and Ogden Rood, and with Paul Signac he found common cause in Seurat's juxtaposition of small dots of pure pigment to create the forms of a painting. "I am totally convinced of the progressive nature of this art, " he wrote, and certain that in time it will yield extraordinary results. I do not accept the snobbish judgment of romantic Impressionists in whose interest is to fight against new tendencies. I accept the challenge, that's all.

The tedious physical process of painting in what was variously called the Neo-Impressionism, Pointillism, or Divisionist technique of dots took its tool on Pissarro and reduced the number of canvases (normally high) which he could finish.

Pissarro abandoned the limitation of Divisionism in 1890 and began a phase of painting urban and quayside landscapes in Paris, Rouen, Le Havre, and Dieppe, as well as in London. The years between 1889 and 1890 were perhaps the most productive of his life.