Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was born in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, to Sephardic Jewish parents of French descent. At the age of 12, his parents sent him to a private school in Passy, near Paris. His passion for drawing was encouraged by his teachers and grandparents, who took him to the Louvre and the Salons. He returned to St. Thomas at age 18 to join the family business, but he was already an artist. In 1852, he went with the Danish artist Fritz Melbye to Venezuela, where he made and sold paintings.
In 1855, Pissarro moved to Paris to pursue his artistic career. While he consulted and learned from Corot, Courbet, and Daubigny, he forged his own path, intentionally opposing the rigid standards of academic art and the Paris Salon. His radical innovations, adopted by his younger colleagues, turned into Impressionism and changed art forever.
Pissarro was the only artist to take part in all eight Impressionist exhibitions, but in the final show, he displayed Neo-Impressionist paintings. He had experimented with color division before meeting Seurat, but was soon frustrated by the lack of spontaneity in Pointillism.
Pissarro’s continuous innovation drove him to seek different motifs, and he depicted the cityscapes of Paris, Rouen, Dieppe, and Le Havre with the same innovative approach as his landscapes. He was planning a new series in Paris when he became ill and died in November, 1903.
Often called the “Dean of Impressionism,” Pissarro is remembered for his kindness and generosity, especially to younger artists. He was a friend and mentor to Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and later, Matisse. His influence on their work is evident, and his innovations, radical at the time, are now recognizable in abstract art. The 19th century writer Georges Lecomte said of him: “His endeavors [are] tantamount to the complete history of Impressionism…they even seem to preface the art of tomorrow.”
For additional reference:
Camille Pissarro, Joachim Pissarro, Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1993.
Pissarro: His Life and Work, Ralph E. Shikes and Paula Harper, Horizon Press, New York, 1980.
Pissarro: Critical Catalogue of Paintings, Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Wildenstein Institute Publications, Skira Editore S.p.A., Milan, 2005.