Paris Loves Pissarro – 3 of 3
The Oise River at Pontoise, 2017
The last of the three Pissarro exhibitions wasn’t in Paris at all—it was in Pontoise, just a 30-minute train ride from Paris. Pissarro lived in Pontoise with his family at two different times—from 1866-1868 and again from 1872 – 1882. There he created some of his most well-loved Impressionist paintings.
Pontoise, an ancient city on the banks of the Oise River northwest of Paris, has two museums: Musée Tavet-Delacour and Musée Camille Pissarro, both under the direction of Christophe Duvivier, who curated the exhibition, “Camille Pissarro—Engraved Impressions.” This large selection of prints was the perfect compliment to the two exhibitions in Paris, showcasing the artist’s extraordinary creativity. According to the exhibition catalogue, there are known to be about 230 prints by Pissarro, including 131 engravings, 67 lithographs and some 30 monotypes. In this extensive exhibition, approximately sixty prints were those held by the Musée Camille Pissarro.
One of the most beautiful works is an early etching, “La Roche-Guyon,” (1866). The etching process is fairly simple: the artist scratches lines on a metal plate covered with a waxy material. Acid bites into the metal where it is exposed by the lines, forming grooves. After cleaning, the plate is inked and wiped so that ink remains only in the grooves. The plate is pressed against paper, creating the etching. Each print, as it comes off the press, is noted as a different state.
La Roche-Guyon, 1866 Etching, 2nd state, Bibliothéque nationale de France, Paris
In 1879, Pissarro began making prints with Edgar Degas, who owned his own press. They experimented with the plate after each print, changing the image, as shown in these two prints, “Effect of Rain,” (1879). For the first state, Pissarro began, not with etching, but with aquatint. Powdered resin, which is dusted on the plate, melts when it is heated and forms hard bumps. Acid makes grooves around them to hold ink. Aquatint, unlike etching, allows the artist to vary areas of light and dark.
Effect of rain, 1879 Aquatint, 1st state, Kunsthalle Bremen, Breme, Italy
In the sixth state, Pissarro used etching, aquatint, and soft ground, which creates lines that look as soft as pencil or crayon. In the intervening states, he darkened the haystack and added two people and trees. In the sixth state, he achieved the look of rain by rubbing the plate with emery cloth in delicate diagonal stripes.
Effect of rain, 1879 Etching, aquatint and soft ground on zinc, Bibliothéque nationale de France, Paris
Pissarro’s prints frequently reflect the same motifs as his paintings. The print, “Path near the woods at l’Hermitage (Pontoise)” (1879) is practically identical to that of his painting, “View of l’Hermitage through the trees,” (1879), and it appears they were made around the same time.
Path near the woods at l’Hermitage (Pontoise) 1879 Etching, soft ground, aquatine and dry point, Bibliothéque nationale de France, Paris
View of l’Hermitage through the trees, 1879, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO
In 1894, Pissarro was finally able to afford a good press of his own, allowing him to perform more complicated experiments. To make “Market at Gisors (rue Cappeville)” (1894/1895), he used four plates, which were inked in black, blue, red and yellow. He was able to make greens and browns by allowing areas of color to overlap. The pinpoints at the top and bottom show how he aligned the plates so as to achieve the proper register.
Market at Gisors (rue Cappeville), 1894/1895 Etching and dry point, 7th state, Bibliothéque nationale de France, Paris
Pissarro also experimented with monotypes, in which paint is applied to glass or smooth stone or metal covered with a greasy substance. As indicated by the name, only one print can be made of each work, but different colors can be used as on a canvas. In this one, “Women doing haymaking,” (c. 1894), the brushstrokes are visible.
Women doing haymaking, c. 1894 Monotype in colors, Musée Faure, Aix-les-Bains, France
He also made lithographs, a process based on the principle that oil repels water. In “Quai de Rouen (Grand Pont)” (1896), he used a variety of gray tones to indicate light and shadow.
Quai de Rouen (Grand Pont), 1896 Lithograph on zinc, Unique state, Musée Camille Pissarro, Pontoise
One of the most popular self-portraits of Pissarro is this etching made in 1890. It recalls Rembrandt’s self-portraits in which the face emerges from blackness. In this one, Pissarro’s eyes, peering from behind his half-rimmed glasses, are captivating while his dark coat fades into the background.
Camille Pissarro, 1890 Etching and aquatint, 2nd state, Musée Camille Pissarro, Pontoise