PISSARRO IN BASEL – Exhibition Video
The Rondest-House, L’Hermitage, Pontoise, 1875, oil on canvas, 21.7 x 18.1 inches, (PDRS 395)
This Pissarro painting, The Rondest-House, L’Hermitage, Pontoise. is featured in the current exhibition, Camille Pissarro: The Studio of Modernism. It is a recent (2021) gift of Dr. Klaus Berlepsch to the Kunstmuseum Basel.
Pontoise may have been Pissarro’s favorite place to paint. He lived there twice, from 1866-1868 and again after the Franco-Prussian War from 1872-1882, and it was there that he created many of his most innovative and memorable paintings. L’Hermitage was a close suburb of Pontoise, just over the hill from the center of town. Easel in hand, Pissarro roamed through the neighborhoods looking for interesting motifs, and he made several paintings in this area.
Painted in 1875, the year after the First Impressionist exhibition, it seems to defy many of the more familiar characteristics of Impressionism with its somber autumnal colors and closed-off view due in large part to the horizontal format. As he frequently does, the artist contrasts distinct curves with the sharp angles of the large house, which dominates the painting. In the lower right corner, a soft curve is barely indicated by a dark shadow in what appears to be golden leaves or straw. Above it, the path carves a larger, almost identical curve brightened perhaps by a ray of sunlight. The steep hillside behind the girl forms a curve in the opposite direction. On the left side of the canvas, a crook of tree trunk pushes the curves into a vertical format—radical because the tree has no visible roots and only one indication of branches going into the sky. Cropping a tree in this manner was totally against the standards of academic art of the day, but Pissarro delighted in breaking the rules.
The flattened image of the house pushes the foreground forward resulting in the closed-off view of this particular spot. Very little is shown on the left beyond the house to suggest perspective. The roughness of the gray and tan walls is defined by the stippling effect of the thick paint, evidence of the artist’s hand. A thin screen of scraggly trees emphasizes the verticality of the house.
The colors suggest autumn or early winter with a gray sky and leafless trees. The only bright color is the golden strip on the pathway suggesting a ray of light from the fading sun. To the right of the young girl on the path is a chicken, which together with another chicken, makes a line to a tall man (her father, perhaps) almost hidden among the tree trunks. Neither of them is the focal point of the painting; in fact, it would be hard to identify a specific focal point. The eye travels all over the painting from the crisscross brushstrokes on the ground to the chimney and down again through the heavily textured walls to the bright spikiness on the path, a mélange of subtle colors and materiality.
The exhibition will be at the Kunstmuseum Basel until January 23, 2022 when it will move in a smaller edition to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, U.K.
The Kunstmuseum Basel has posted a superb video of the entire exhibition. Use this link: https://kunstmuseumbasel.ch/en/exhibitions/2021/camille-pissarro/virtual-tour Or go to the museum’s website: https://kunstmuseumbasel.ch/en/exhibitions/2021/camille-pissarro