Monday, April 18, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Pissarro

Camille Pissarro was one of the great figures in 19th century Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.  Though he was of Portuguese-Jewish descent, he moved to France as a teenager to attend secondary school.  During his studies there, Pissarro gained an appreciation for the arts, and was inspired by the French realists Corot and Courbet.  Upon his return to his native St. Thomas Islands, Pissarro's father had him working for the family business, but the 17 year old Camille would manage to work on drawings during his free time.
At the age of 21, Pissarro left the family business to pursue a full time career in painting.  He left St. Thomas with his friend and teacher Fritz Melbye to live in Venezuela drawing and painting landscapes.  A few years later, he would move back to Paris to work alongside Fritz's brother Anton Melbye.  He studied the paintings of some of the best French masters of the time - Courbet, Millet, and Corot among others.  Pissarro also enrolled in a few classes at a couple of different schools including the École des Beaux-Arts.  The strict academic method taught in these classes did not work out very well for him, so he would eventually seek out instruction from Corot himself.
In 1859, Pissarro exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon after having been instructed and tutored by Corot.  Pissarro was inspired by Corot to paint en plein aire, on the spot landscapes.  He became inspired to the point of leaving the city to live near rural areas so he could have better access to these landscapes.  He simply painted what he saw, and painted how his eye could best interpret, and often in one sitting. 
Perhaps Pissarro's greatest period were his impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, in which Pissarro would paint with pure, unmixed color in such a way that when viewed at a distance, the eye would visually mix the colors and make sense of the painting.  This was his predominate style during the 1880s after he had met other post-impressionists such as Signac and Seurat, who also painted in a similar manner known as pointillism.  Pissarro had befriended other painters who embraced the impressionist style such as Renoir, Monet, and Degas.  Together with this group of artists, Pissarro exhibited in an alternative show to the Paris Salon, and the critics did not know what to think, except that there was not much positive to say.  Critics were so much more used to religious, mythological scenes, and the impressionists were showing crudely painted rural scenes of everyday peasant life.
Pissarro's last years had him painting outdoor scenes from elevated hotel rooms due to an eye infection.  He died in 1903 in Paris.  Pissarro is widely considered one of the first great impressionists, and is one of the only artists to paint within two different movements during his lifetime - Impressionist and Post-Impressionist.

Camille Pissarro
Two Women Chatting By the Sea
oil on canvas
28 x 41 cm.

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