Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands
An outstanding painter, draftsman and printmaker, Camille Pissarro was the only artist to participate in all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions. Best known for his landscapes, he also created masterly depictions of the human figure. Born on the island of St. Thomas in the then-Danish Virgin Islands, he left the islands in 1855 for Paris , where he took private art lessons and studied at the Académie Suisse. Within a few years Pissarro became friends with several younger artists, including Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). Pissarro’s early works were in a realist style, influenced by Camille Corot (1796-1875) and Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) and his paintings were accepted for display in seven of the official Salons from 1859 through 1870, and the 1863 Salon des Refuses. After meeting Édouard Manet (1832-1883), he frequently joined Manet, Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and their friends in gatherings at the Café Guerbois in Paris. Pissarro and his family began spending much of the year in villages on the outskirts of Paris, first Pontoise and then Louveciennes, which were depicted in his landscapes. In London during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, he was introduced to the young art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922), who included works by Pissarro in his 1871 London exhibition of French art. Durand-Ruel began buying Pissarro’s works on a regular basis in 1872 and included his works in three exhibitions he mounted that year in London. Pissarro moved back to Pontoise in 1872; Cézanne moved nearby in 1873, and the two artists collaborated for two years, often painting the same subject. Sometime in 1873 Monet and Pissarro began planning for an independent, non-juried exhibition of their works and those of their friends, leading to the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. The show was neither a critical nor a financial success. Citing the poor economy and the hostile reviews, Durand-Ruel stopped making purchases from Pissarro. The Impressionist exhibitions of 1876 and 1877 were similarly unsuccessful, but the 1879 exhibition was more popular. Also in 1879 Degas and Pissarro made experimental etchings together. Pissarro made about twenty plates, each in multiple states, using a combination of intaglio techniques and varying the inking of each impression. Degas and Pissarro both exhibited prints (and works in other media) in the 1880 Impressionist show. Pissarro took the radical step of showing multiple states of four etched images. Pissarro’s financial situation improved in late 1880 when Durand-Ruel resumed purchases. Pissarro’s works in the 1881 and 1882 Impressionist exhibitions received a positive critical reaction. In 1883 Durand-Ruel mounted a one-man exhibition showing seventy of Pissarro’s works. He experimented with the pointillist style of the Neo-Impressionists from the mid-1880s, influenced by Georges Seurat (1859-1891) and Paul Signac (1869-1935). The last Impressionist exhibition in 1886 included a room devoted to pointillist works by Pissarro, his son Lucien (1863-1944), Signac and Seurat. Pissarro’s new artistic style was not popular and led to financial difficulty. Nevertheless, in 1889 his works appeared in three exhibitions in Brussels and Paris. Despite his anarchist political views, his rosy scenes of rural life expressed his idealism more than his politics. He executed the only overtly-political works of his career in 1889, a remarkable set of twenty-eight drawings for his nieces, Les Turpitudes Sociales (Social Disgraces, coll. Jean Bonna, Geneva), reflecting his dislike of Parisian society and his concern for the downtrodden. Pissarro returned to the Impressionist style by 1890 and found greater acceptance. A solo exhibition was held at the Boussod & Valadon gallery in Paris to excellent reviews. Durand-Ruel mounted multiple solo exhibitions for Pissarro in Paris and New York in the 1890s. Pissarro purchased a good etching press in 1894 and made monotypes as well as etchings, such as Paysannes nues dans l'herbe (1894-95, Nude Peasants in the Grass, Shapiro/Melot 8), now in the Achenbach collection. He also returned to lithography in 1894. The day after the June, 1894 assassination of French President Sadi Carnot (1837-1894) Pissarro left France for Belgium for four months, escaping the arrest of prominent anarchists. Seven landscapes by Pissarro entered the collection of the Musée du Luxembourg in 1897. During the 1890s and into the next century, Pissarro created several series of paintings, including views of Rouen, Paris, Dieppe and Le Havre. He had finished a series on the Quai Voltaire in late 1903 when he took ill and died on November 13. (TNB 10/2011) Selected bibliography: Brettell, Richard. Pissarro’s People. Exhibition catalog. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Williamstown: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; New York: Prestel Publlishers, 2011. Pissarro, Joachim. Camille Pissarro. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1993. Shapiro, Barbara S. Camille Pissarro: The Impressionist Printmaker. Exhibition catalog. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1973.