“For an impressionist to paint from nature is not to paint the subject, but to realise sensations” - Paul Cezanne
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.
The painting here is one in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. It is his “Boulevarde Montmartre, Morning, Cloudy Weather” painted in 1897. In February of that year Pissarro had begun a series of paintings of the grand boulevards of Paris. Between 10th February and 17th April he painted fourteen views of the Boulevarde Montmartre seen from the window of a hotel room. The artist is less interested in topographical accuracy and detail, but rather wishes to observe and capture the constantly changing effects of light and weather and mood. The fixed viewpoint of the hotel room upper-storey window allowed him to record the ever-changing configurations of crowd and traffic. The painting is as impressionistic and as Parisian as any and represents what for most people is the essence of the impressionist school.