AMONG THE SURVIVORS–PISSARRO’S APPLE TREES
1870, McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton (Ontario), Canada
Camille Pissarro had lived in Louveciennes only a year when he made this lovely painting, Apple Trees in Bloom. He had painted the scenes of his neighborhood and now was exploring the nearby countryside. After painting outside in deep snow that winter, he must have been delighted to see the blossoming apple trees of spring.
This peaceful scene soon became a war zone. By September, the Prussians had defeated Napoleon III at Sedan and their soldiers began to occupy France. Before the troops reached Louveciennes, Pissarro and his companion Julie fled with their two small children to Montfoucault, the home of their dear friend Ludovic Piette in the Mayenne. Later, the young family went to London for the duration of the war.
When the Prussians occupied Louveciennes they commandeered Pissarro’s house, sleeping soldiers upstairs and keeping horses on the ground floor. In the garden, they slaughtered livestock and poultry, using Pissarro’s canvases as aprons and to cover the muddy ground. A great number of Pissarro’s art works were lost or destroyed beyond repair.
The catalogue raisonné (Pissarro:Critical Catalogue, 2005) notes that this painting was bought from the artist by Paul Durand-Ruel on April 30, 1872, almost a year after Pissarro returned from London. There is no information on where this painting and other surviving canvases were during the war.
This landscape is a complex composition of lines and angles. The road is just one of several layers of colors which come to a point and vanish in a distant cluster of houses. Several apple trees march in a straight row diagonally across the lower left, their precise alignment broken by the leaning tree at the front. In the distance lies a village, perhaps Louveciennes. The apple trees serve as a screen, both concealing and revealing the countryside. Pissarro first used this type of composition the previous year, and he continued to develop his use of this device throughout his career.
Apple Trees in Bloom was donated to the McMaster Museum of Art (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) in the mid-1980s by Dr. Herman Herzog Levy.