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CAMILLE PISSARRO

 

1831 - 1903

In the history of art, Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro has garnered the reputation of being an artist “par excellence”. Utilizing his prolific technique and imagery, he perceived his environment in both candor and clarity.  His visionary honesty resulted in perhaps the most rewarding prints to emerge from this time period, truly emulating the zeitgeist of 19th century Impressionism.

 

Born in the West Indies, Pissarro was faced with adversity from birth. He came from a Jewish family that was repudiated by their own community for their values. It was during his education in Paris that he realized his dream of becoming a painter, and he displayed great perseverance in his journey to becoming one. At age 17, he returned to St. Thomas in order to enter the family business. Five years later, he rebelled and fled to Venezuela.  When he was twenty-five, his family gave their blessing for his passion and he settled in Paris in order to study the arts. Mentored by Corot, he was also deeply influenced by Millet and Courbet. 

 

From 1859 to 1861, he became acquainted with Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Armand Guillaumin. In avoidance with the Franco-Prussian war, he found himself in England by 1870, leaving behind many of his works that were subsequently destroyed by the Prussians. Following the war, he returned to France and continued to create new art.

 

Pissarro met Edouard Manet in 1866 and was greatly influenced by him, leading him to become deeply involved in the Impressionist movement from that point forward.  He was one of few artists to participate in all eight of their revolutionary exhibitions, and he viewed the clash against academic art as both a moral and aesthetic battle.  His relations with many of the artists in his community were powerful and enduring.  Working alongside Cezanne, Pissarro was responsible for Paul Gaugin’s representation in the fifth Impressionist exhibition.  It was at this exhibition that Pissarro, Degas and Cassatt exchanged technical advice about printmaking.  From 1885 to 1890, Pissarro followed Seurat and Signac in experimenting with pointillism, but feeling that its scientific approach hampered his spontaneity, he later returned to Impressionism.  Despite a life of privations, Pissarro refused to seek recognition in official art circles: he was completely committed to the new, more natural style of painting.

 

Printmaking became a passion for Pissarro, and he was very particular about the progress of his plates.  His media came to include new techniques such as liquid aquatint and soft-ground etching. The development of an image was often very complicated and involved a mixture of several media and frequent reworking. 

 

For his subjects, Pissarro drew from the towns and landscapes around him in a straightforward manner.  His debt to Corot was obvious in his unsentimental devotion to nature.

 

His goal was to portray nature and the simple working class people in a sensitive way.  He believed the reality of nature lay in its close intimacy with man and many of his finest works depict, with great integrity, the humble workers going about their daily lives.  Due to Pissarro’s choice of subject matter, his prints were not in vogue and he, therefore, chose to keep them a private pursuit.  His editions were quite small and generally shared with just a few friends and fellow artists.