Sunday, 16 October 2016


“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” - Aristotle Onassis

For Art Sunday today, Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903), one of the foremost French impressionist painters of the 19th century. He was born on July 10th, in the Danish West Indies, the third son of a Jewish French merchant of originally Portuguese descent. When Camille was 12 years old, his parents sent him away to a school in Passy, near Paris. The young Pissarro showed an early talent for drawing, and he began to visit the collections of the Louvre.

At age 17 he returned to St. Thomas, where his father expected him to enter the family business. Young Camille, however, was more interested in sketching and painting and ran away to Venezuela. He returned to St. Thomas in August 1854 and after convincing his parents that he wanted to become an artist, he moved to Paris in 1855. Pissarro arrived in time to see the contemporary art on display at Paris’s Universal Exposition, where he was strongly attracted to the paintings of Camille Corot. He began to attend private classes at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1856, and in 1861 he registered as a copyist at the Louvre.

He also attended the Académie Suisse, a “free studio,” where he met future Impressionists Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, and Armand Guillaumin. Through Monet, he also met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. Pissarro painted rural and urban French life, particularly landscapes in and around Pontoise, as well as scenes from Montmartre. His mature work displays an empathy for peasants and labourers, and sometimes evidence of his radical political leanings. He was a mentor to Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin and his example inspired many younger artists, including Californian Impressionist Lucy Bacon.

Pissarro’s influence on his fellow Impressionists is probably still underestimated; not only did he offer substantial contributions to Impressionist theory, but he also managed to remain on friendly, mutually respectful terms with such difficult personalities as Degas, Cézanne and Gauguin. Pissarro exhibited at all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions. Moreover, whereas Monet was the most prolific and emblematic practitioner of the Impressionist style, Pissarro was nonetheless a primary developer of Impressionist technique.

Whilst in Upper Norwood, Pissarro was introduced to Paul Durand-Ruel, the art dealer who overstocked a large amount of oil paintings for sale, who bought two of his ‘London’ paintings. Durand-Ruel subsequently became the most important art dealer of the new school of French Impressionism. Pissarro died in Paris on 13th November 1903 and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery. During his lifetime, Camille Pissarro sold few of his canvas paintings. By 2005, however, some of his works were selling in the range of U.S. $2 to 4 million.

Here is his “L'Avant-port de Dieppe, après-midi, temps lumineux” of 1902. In the first years of the twentieth century, Pissarro took to painting urban landscapes in carefully selected series. The current work derives from one such series, depicting a view of the harbour at Dieppe. Pissarro returned to the town of Dieppe on the Normandy coast in the summer of 1902, where he had already painted several depictions of the church of Saint-Jacques the year before. This time he rented a room on the second floor of the Hôtel du Commerce, which looked out onto the fish market. From his room he could see the port and the inner harbour, and he painted several pictures of these views, of which the present work is a brilliant and sun-drenched example.

The weather that summer was splendid, and Pissarro, who was very enthusiastic about his surroundings, encouraged his son Lucien to join him there: “I have a first-rate motif, indeed I have several. It is really a pity that you can’t come to Dieppe this year, but perhaps you will be able to escape for a little while.” After passing through several prominent French collections, “L'Avant-port de Dieppe, après-midi, temps lumineux” was sold in an auction at Hôtel Drouot in 1938 and has been in the same family since that sale. This was then sold in 2012 in New York by Sotheby’s for 1,538,500 USD.

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