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Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)

Photograph of Camille Pissarro

Photograph of Camille Pissarro (c.1900)

Pissarro was a French landscape artist and is celebrated for his influence on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Born in the Danish West Indies in 1830, a son to a French citizen of Portuguese-Jewish descent, he grew up as an outsider. Aged 12, Pissarro’s parents sent him to a boarding school in France, where he discovered a fascination for the most skilled French artists. 

Camille Pissarro

Danish artist Fritz Melbye by Camille Pissarro (1857)

In 1849, Pissarro met Danish artist Fritz Melbye, who encouraged the young Pissarro to pursue his passion for art. A few years later, in 1855, Pissarro returned to Paris where he would study and work closely with painters Camile Corot and Gustave Courbet, developing his skills, whilst exploring new approaches to art. Pissarro met Monet and Paul Cézanne, who shared similar interests and questions. However, their work was rejected by the French artistic establishment who excluded non-traditional painting from the official Salon exhibitions.

Self portrait of Pissarro (1852-1854)

Self portrait of Pissarro (1852-1854)

Although Pissarro’s resides within in the city, Pissarro preferred to work out in the open air. He is quoted to have said “Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing." His most-loved subjects included scenes of village life and the natural world.

Camille Pissarro and his wife Julie Vellay (1877)

Pissarro and his wife Julie Vellay (1877)

In 1871, Pissarro married his mother’s maid, Julie Vellay, and they had eight children together. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 forced the young family to flee London. Sadly, when Pissarro returned, most of his work had been destroyed. Only 40 out of 1,500 had survived. However, this did not mark the end of Pissarro’s work, and he reconnected with his artist friends, and would go on to form a collective of 15 artists, who intended to offer an alternative to the Salon. In 1874, the group held their first exhibition, which shocked critics due to the unconventional style of their art. This marked the establishment of Impressionism as an artistic movement.

Photograph of Camille Pissarro

Photograph of Pissarro (c.1900)

Impressionist works are distinguishable by their use of small, visible brushstrokes creating a bare impression of form, paired with unblended colour, and an emphasis on capturing natural lighting accurately. Alongside Claude Monet and Edgar Degas, Pissarro played an important role in shaping the impressionist movement, characterised by its radical approach as the impressionists rebelled against classical subject matter and shifted their focus to modernity. Their works intended to capture the reality of the world in which they lived.

According to Mary Cassatt, American painter who exhibited with the Impressionists, Pissarro could “teach the stone to draw”. He was also regarded as a father figure to many of the major artists of the period including the likes of Seurat, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin.

Pissarro Self Portrait (1903)

Pissarro Self Portrait (1903)

By the 1880s, Pissarro transitioned into the post-Impressionist period, in which he returned to earlier themes, whilst exploring new techniques like pointillism. Pissarro embraced innovation throughout his life, and as he turned away from impressionism, the movement fell into decline. Pissarro was the only artist to exhibit at all eight Paris Impressionist exhibitions, but also the only artist to exhibit work in both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism shows.

When a recurring eye infection prevented Pissarro from working outdoors, he would often paint while looking out of the window of his hotel room. As a result, many of his works of this period have views from a higher perspective.

Grave of Pissarro

The impressionist leader and father figure to the major artists that are known worldwide, passed away in 1903. He is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery, which is the largest cemetry in Paris which is visited by more than 3.5 million visitors annually.

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