PISSARRO and Pointillism
Young Peasant Girl Having Café au Lait, 1881, The Art Institute of Chicago, PDRS 662
Pissarro, like most other artists studied the color division theories of Chevreul, so he knew how to divide local (or normal) color into its different parts to increase its brilliance. And he knew that colors placed side-by-side produce reflections on each other. It is no surprise then that in 1881, when Ogden Rood’s book, “Modern Chromatics: Students’ Text-Book of Color,” was translated into French, Pissarro would take note of what Rood said about color division:
The effect referred to takes place when different colours are placed side by side in lines or dots, and then viewed at such a distance that the blending is more or less accomplished by the eye of the beholder. . . . If the coloured lines or dots are quite distant from the eye, the mixture is of course perfect, and presents nothing remarkable in its appearance.*
That same year, he painted “Young Peasant Girl Having Cafe au Lait” (1881) [PDRS 662], a study in the optical mixing of colors and reflections. The blue-green on the wall behind her is reflected on the shoulder and sleeve of her pink blouse in tiny dots. Her dark blue skirt is reflected on the front of her blouse, and the pink of her long sleeve is reflected in the skirt at the bottom of the canvas. The brushstrokes are tiny and many are criss-crossed.
All of this happened in 1881, four years before Pissarro met Seurat, years before pointillism became a painting technique, and well before the word, Neo-Impressionism was invented by art critic Félix Fénéon. Though he graciously gave Seurat all the credit for “inventing” the new scientific technique of painting, he had been experimenting with it years before!
* Rood, O. N. (1879). Modern Chromatics. London, C. Kegan Paul & Co., 279-80.
[This is a small segment from my upcoming book, ABSTRACT PISSARRO.]