At a time of chaos with Christmas Day just hours away and when family descend on us from every direction, it is very difficult to put aside time to develop a new blog for My Daily Art Display. However today I am a writing a short entry featuring a painting by Camille Pissarro, which was on the majority of my Christmas cards which I sent out. So, today’s blog is my Christmas card to you. The painting is entitled Ferme à Montfoucault, effet de neige (Farm at Montfoucault, snow effect), which he completed in 1876 and can now be found in the Ashmoleon Museum.
It was Camille Pissarro’s good friend and fellow painter Ludovic Piette who had an estate at Montfoucault in the department of Mayenne in eastern Brittany. Pissarro stayed there numerous times in the 1860’s and 1870’s. It was during these periods that he completed many of his works of art depicting the region and its people. Pissarro was in awe of the surrounding countryside and once commented to a friend that he always look forward with much anticipation to being in “the true countryside”. This area was in complete contrast to Pontoise, where he had settled in 1872. Pontoise was a modem town with a large population criss-crossed by roads and railway lines in complete contrast to the tranquillity of Montfoucault. Montfoucault and the Mayenne department was criss-crossed, but not by numerous traffic-laden roads but by small country lanes and fields enclosed by hedgerows. The whole of the Mayenne region at the time was somewhat remote and isolated. It was Théodore Duret the French journalist and art critic who had recommended that Pissarro should journey to the area to find, as he termed it, “the path of rustic nature”.
The painting before you is of an enclosed barnyard of a farm which was close by to Ludovic Piette’s house. In all, Pissarro completed no fewer than eighteen paintings which depicted the immediate surroundings of Piette’s house. There is a coldness about this painting. It is the kind of scene you appreciate as you sit at home and absorb the warmth of a wood fire. The snow on the ground is melting slightly and turning to mud. I like the way Pissarro has depicted the scene with a cold light which falls on the thatched roofs and bundles of straw. Pissarro has managed to incorporate a number of animals into his painting as well as the figure of the farmer as he struggles through into the yard weighed down with bales of straw.
Despite his love for the area, this painting marked his last visit to the home of Ludovic Piette, who died in 1878.
So that is my Xmas card to you. For my Christmas present to you I would (if I could) give you one of three books on artists, which I have enjoyed reading this year and which I thoroughly recommend you buy.
They are not strictly biographies but a kind of fictional biography which has allowed the author to mix facts with a touch of fiction and which I believe adds to the enjoyment. The books are:
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland and is a novel that brings to life Renoir’s masterpiece and how he came to paint the scene. It also gives an insight into the Impressionists and the tensions between certain members of the group.
As Above, So Below by Rudy Rucker. This is a fictional novel, based upon facts about the life and times of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It is a lively and interesting tale which will appeal to all of you who love the work of Bruegel.
The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland. This is a fictional biography of Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the greatest female artists of all times and follows the struggles of the young woman who had to endure numerous setbacks and overcome much in a male-dominated society in order to reach the pinnacle of her career.
Finally let me wish you all, a very Merry Christmas.
As promised yesterday my blog today carries on looking at the life of Camille Pissarro and one of his later paintings.
In 1872 Pissarro returned to Pontoise, where he once again set up home. His friendship with Cézanne was re-established and Pissarro mentored his friend in the technique of painting “patiently from nature”. Cézanne was to later to comment about his relationship with Pissarro and how his mentoring made him change his artistic style saying:
“…As for old Pissarro, he was a father to me, a man to consult and something like the good Lord…”
Pissarro was determined to create an alternative to the Salon. He wanted a society of artists who would work together and become a type of cooperative. It took almost four years to achieve his aim . Artists petitioned for a new Salon des Refusés in 1867, and again in 1872. Both requests were denied and so during the latter part of 1873, Pissarro along with Monet, Sisley and Renoir organized the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (“Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers”). Its purpose was to exhibit their works of art independently. They soon had fellow artists like Cezanne, Berthe Morisot and Degas interested in the scheme and all agreed to boycott participation in the Salon in 1874 and exhibit only at their exhibition. The exhibition took place in January 1874 at the studio of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon , known as Nadar, in the Boulevard des Capucines and this exhibition of their work was later to become known as the First Impressionist Exhibition. Works in this exhibition included five paintings from Pissarro. The names of the other artists who exhibited works in this exhibition reads like a Who’s Who” of famous artists. Included in the exhibition were works by Monet, Renoir, Guillaumin, Béliard, Sisley, Cézanne, Degas and Morisot. This First Impressionist Exhibition was not received favourably by the critics and Pissarro was disheartened by their criticism. He wrote to the art critic Théodore Duret, who was sympathetic to the Impressionist cause, expressing his disappointment with the adverse criticism:
“…Our exhibition goes well. It is a success. The critics destroy us and accuse us of not having studied; I am returning to my work, it is better than reading the reviews…”
So why did the majority of art critics hate the works on show? One should remember that the critics were brought up on the art of the Salon with its accepted works portraying religious, historical any mythological settings and so the paintings put forward by the Impressionists, including Pissarro, depicted commonplace street life and people busying themselves in their daily routine and was considered by the critics as both facile and some even went further by declaring them vulgar. The critics considered a lot of the Impressionist works as being “unfinished” in comparison to the works seen at the Salon. They commented that the way the brushstrokes of the Impressionists works were visible which, to their mind, meant it had been done in haste and often completed in a solitary sitting. In comparison they praised the Salon painters who to them were the “real” artists and who spent hour after hour carefully perfecting each part of their works.
The year of this First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874 proved a bad year for Pissarro. His artworks were not selling and he had to endure a personal tragedy with his nine year old daughter Jeanne dying the week the exhibition opened. However, Pissarro stuck to his belief in the Impressionist movement and exhibited no fewer than twelve works in their second exhibition in 1876. Three years on the Impressionist grouping was starting to fall apart with Renoir, Sisley and Cézanne having left. There was also now a split amongst the remainder of the group with Degas on one side who wanted to bring in new artists and Caillebotte and Pissarro on the other who wanted to maintain the status quo. Degas also laid down the rule for the Impressionist group that any artist putting forward work to the Salon could not enter work in that year’s Impressionist exhibition. This was a major dilemma for some of the group who believed that to become a respected artist and command a good price for their works they had to exhibit at the Salon.
The possible break-up of the Impressionists that had worried Pissarro showed itself in the sixth and seventh exhibitions with few of the initial contributors putting forward works for inclusion. Pissarro continued to support the Impressionist Exhibitions, refusing to enter works at the Salon and in fact contributed to all eight Impressionist Exhibitions. Times were still difficult for Pissarro and the collapse of the French economy at the start of the 1880’s made it even more difficult for him to sell his work. In 1884 he moved from Pontoise to the small village of Eragny sur Epte which lies north east of Paris. It was whilst living here that he met the artists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac and he became a convert to their new approach to art which was known as Neo-Impressionism. I will go more into Neo-Impressionism movement and the related “–isms” of pointillism and divisionism, both of which are relevant to Neo-Impressionism, when I feature the works of George Seurat.
By the time of the eighth and last Impressionist Exhibition in 1886 there was an apparent lack of harmony among the remaining Impressionist artists, and the work of the Neo-Impressionists was shown separately from that of the others. It was noticeable that both Monet and Renoir were absent from this last exhibition. Seurat showed his now famous, and very large work entitled A Sunday on La Grande Jatte which he had just completed and which dominated the room. The room also contained Pissarro’s own Neo-Impressionist submissions which consisted of nine oil paintings, as well as gouaches, pastels, and etchings.
Pissarro’s love affair with Neo-Impressionism was short lived and in 1889 he began to move away from the style, believing that it made it “impossible to be true to my sensations and consequently to render life and movement”. Impressionism at this point in time had run its course. Pissarro carried on painting city scenes although his erstwhile colleagues Renoir, Sisley and Monet had abandoned such subjects. Pissarro completed a number of works featuring the streets of Paris and the Gare Saint Lazare.
In his latter years Pissarro suffered from a recurring eye infection that prevented him from his en plein air work and any outdoor scenes he wanted to paint he did so whilst sitting by windows of hotel rooms he stayed at, always making sure he had a top floor room with a good view. He carried on doing this when he toured around the northern French towns of Rouen, Dieppe and Le Havre and also when he made trips to London. Pissarro died in Paris in 1903, aged 73. He was buried along with the other greats of French art, music and literature in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Camille’s descendents followed his path in the art world. His granddaughter, the daughter of his son Lucien, Orovida Pissarro is a painter in her own right. His great-grandson, Joachim Pissarro, is former Head Curator of Drawing and Painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is now a professor in Hunter College’s Art Department. His great-granddaughter, Lélia, is an artist who lives in London.
My daily Art Display featured work of art today by Camille Pissaro is a painting he completed in 1875 entitled The Pond at Montfoucault. In 1859, a few years after arriving in Paris, Pissarro, whilst attending the Académie Suisse, met some aspiring artists who would become very famous, such as Monet and Cézanne. He also became great friends with a lesser known painter, Ludovic Piette. Piette often exhibited at the Paris Salon in the 1860’s and also some of his paintings were shown at the Third Impressionist Exhibition of 1877. Piette’s home was in the small village of Montfoucault, which lies on the border between Normandy and Brittany. Pissarro went to stay with Piette on a number of occasions and when the Franco-Prussian war broke out Pissarro and his family left their home and took refuge with Piette before crossing the Channel to England.
It was later in 1874 when Pissarro had come to Montfoucault to try and relax and get over the stress and disappointment of the First Impressionist Exhibition that he started to paint some local country scenes. He especially liked to depict female workers engaged in their daily duties and this is what we see in today’s painting. Before us we see a female herding some cattle by the pond which lay on Piette’s property. Pissarro enjoyed his visits to Montfoucault and he wrote to Theodore Duret, the French journalist, author and art critic about his work but you can sense an uneasiness and doubt in his mind about his art. He wrote:
“…I haven’t worked badly here. I have been tackling figures and animals. I have several genre pictures. I am rather chary about going in for a branch of art in which first-rate artists have so distinguished themselves. It is a very bold thing to do and I am afraid of making a complete failure of it…”
There is a beautiful tranquillity about this painting and one can see how an artist like Pissarro would have liked basing himself in this area.
Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro was born to Abraham Gabriel Pissarro and Rachel Pissarro (née Manzano-Pomié ) in 1830 on the island of St Thomas in the Danish West Indies, now known as the US Virgin Islands. His father, a Sephardic Jew, held French nationality, but was of Portuguese descent. He originally came to the Caribbean to sort out the business affairs of his uncle who had recently died. He ended up staying in St Thomas, took over the running of the dry store business and married his late uncle’s widow, Rachel. This found no favour with the small local Jewish community, maybe because he had married his late uncle’s wife or maybe because his new wife and Camille’s mother, was a native Creole, a Dominican of Spanish descent, and not of the Jewish faith. Camille and his siblings because of this were excluded from the Jewish school on the island and had to attend the all-black primary school.
Pissarro’s father and mother went on to have four children. Camille was the third son and he and his parents and siblings lived a comfortable existence in a large and spacious apartment over the family shop on Dronnigens Gade, the main street, of Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St Thomas. At the age of twelve, so as to ensure he had a good education, Camille was sent to France to attend a boarding school in Passy, a small town in a district of Paris , on the right bank of the Seine. It was whilst studying in Paris that the young Camille developed a love for art and would often visit the Louvre. After five years studying in France, Camille Pissarro returned home to Saint Thomas where his father was hoping he would enter the family business. However the young Pissarro was unimpressed at having to act as a cargo clerk at the harbour and had other ideas for his future. During his time at the harbour he would spend most of his time sketching. It was whilst sketching one day that he met Fritz Melbye, a Danish marine painter who was also living on St Thomas. He liked the enthusiasm Pissarro had for sketching and painting and he began to mentor him and eventually persuaded him that he should become a full time artist. Pissarro was delighted and much to his father’s chagrin in 1852 gave up the family job and went off with Melbye to Venezuela where the two of them based themselves in Caracas and stayed for two years sketching and painting landscapes and village scenes. Pissarro once reflected on his decision to leave his comfortable home and his position in the family business saying:
“…I abandoned all I had and bolted to Caracas to get clear of the bondage of bourgeois life…”
In 1854, he returned home to Saint Thomas and his parents realised that any attempt to persuade the son to settle down would be fruitless and so they gave him their blessing to seek his fortune as an artist and the following year he left Saint Thomas for the last time and went to live in Paris. He went initially to stay with the French branch of his family who gave him financial support, in order to have him follow a more serious artistic training.
His first position was to act as an assistant to his friend Fritz Melbye’s brother and Danish artist, Anton. In 1856 he attended private art classes at the École des Beaux-Arts and at the age of thirty-one registered as a copyist at the Louvre. He was influenced in his early days in Paris by the likes of Courbet, Corot, Millet and Daubigny. He also attended the prestigious Académie Suisse which was an art establishment in Paris. The Swiss Academy did not offer courses, but provided the aspiring young artists with models made it possible for them to study nudes together, and in this way helped the usually poverty-stricken young painters who found the price of a model being too high for a sole artist. It was also a great meeting place for the young artists to discuss their work and their personal ideas. It was here that he met the future Impressionists Claude Monet, Armand Guillaumin and Paul Cézanne and through them was introduced to the likes of Renoir and Sisley.
Even though now living in Paris his early paintings were of the Caribbean and he was still influenced by Anton Melbye to such an extent his early exhibits at the Paris Salon bore the signature “Pupil of A. Melbye” a moniker he used until 1866. Studying at the Academies was not all together to Pissarro’s liking and he railed against having to work in the traditional and prescribed manner set down by these institutions and having to follow the official line when it came down to getting works exhibited in their official exhibitions. He felt that their official standards were subduing his creativity and he decided to look elsewhere for help and inspiration which he eventually found when he was being tutored by Camille Corot. It was their mutual love of rural scenes which endeared Corot to Pissarro and it was Corot that first introduced Pissarro to the technique of outdoor painting, en plein air. Pissarro would spend much time around the countryside on the outskirts of Paris. He would make many painting trips around Montmorency and Pontoise building up his landscape portfolio.
A few years after he had arrived in Paris his parents left their business in Saint Thomas leaving the running of it to their manager and moved to Paris. They hired a maidservant by the name of Julie Vellay, the daughter of a Burgundian wine producer. Camille struck up a relationship with Julie in 1860 and she was to become the love of his life and his constant companion. In 1863, following a miscarriage the previous year, they had their first child, Lucien. Just over a year later their daughter Jeanne was born.
The style of Pissarro’s works with their natural settings did not now find favour with the Salon juries and the pretence of grandeur the Salon jurists required in works if they were to be allowed into the Salon exhibitions. A turning point came in 1863 when all the works by Pissarro and his like-minded contemporaries such as Monet, Cézanne and Guillaumin where rejected for the forthcoming exhibition by the Salon jury. According to the author, Ross King, in his book, The Judgement of Paris, only 2217 out of 5000 paintings were accepted into the Paris Salon exhibition by the Salon jury. The French ruler at the time Emperor Napoleon III voiced concern at the time for this wholesale refusal to allow so many works enter the official Salon exhibition and decreed that the rejected painters could have their works hung in an annex the regular Salon, the Salon des Refusés (Exhibition of Rejects). He wanted the public to judge the works which had been rebuffed by the Salon jurists. Artists who had their works hung in the 1863 Salon des Refusés exhibition included Pissarro, Manet, Whistler and Cézanne.
The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870 and Pissarro moved his family to Norwood on the outskirts of London and it was here he met the Paris art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, a man who would, from then on, organise the sale of Pissarro’s works. It was also the art dealer that reacquainted Pissarro with Monet and the two French artists spent their time in London studying the work of the great landscape painters, Turner and Constable. It was in 1871 whilst still in London that Pissarro married his lover Julie Vellay who was expecting their third child. That year, after the war had ended, he and his family returned to their home in Louveciennes and much to his horror most of the works in his studio, which he had completed in the previous twenty years, had been destroyed by the invading Prussian soldiers.
I will leave Pissarro’s life story at this point and conclude it in my next blog but for today I want to end by looking at one of Pissarro’s early paintings. My Daily Art Display featured oil on canvas painting is entitled Two Women Chatting by the Sea which he completed in 1856 around the time he left his homeland for the final time. The painting had been owned by Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon, the late American philanthropist and his wife and was given to the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1985. Unfortunately, according to their website it is not currently on view. It is amazing the high percentage of paintings that all large museums have in their vaults, waiting their turn to go on display. It is just a shame that there is not more wall space available for us to see these hidden gems.