Pissarro in Cleveland
The Fish Market, Dieppe, 1902, Cleveland Museum of Art, PDRS 1439
Camille Pissarro’s wonderful painting, The Fish Market, Dieppe (1902) [PRDS 1439] is now in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, thanks to a monumental gift of numerous paintings valued at more than $100 million by Joseph P. and Nancy F. Keithley. The CMA already has two other Pissarro paintings, both from the 1870s, so this addition from the artist’s later works adds important depth to their collection.
This is one of twenty-one views of Dieppe that Pissarro made during his second visit to the city. He arrived in early July 1902 and stayed until the end of September, returning to the Hôtel du Commerce for lodging. To vary his choice of motifs, he rented a different room at 7 Arcades de la Poissonnerie to use as a studio, which gave him views of the harbor, the fish market, and the quai Duquesne in both directions. This painting shows the open-shed fish market which was practically beneath Pissarro’s window. The antique postcard shows the fish market and behind it, the arcade where Pissarro painted his views of the harbor. Just to the right of the fish market were railroad tracks for the train from Rouen which had its terminus on the quai. In another painting, Pissarro showed the arrival of the train with crowds of people lining the tracks. Unfortunately, the train no longer comes into the heart of Dieppe, and that large space has been filled with flower beds.
Antique postcard of Dieppe, showing the railroad tracks, the fish market, and the arcades where Pissarro painted.
On the right, the Arcades de la Poissonnerie where Pissarro had his studio, Dieppe
Pissarro’s location in the window of the arcade limits his composition choices in this painting and the one with the train. This particular view, looking directly down and to his left, offered him little leeway in arranging pictorial elements. Maybe that is why he made only two paintings of this particular view, obviously preferring to paint the more spacious port areas busy with boats of all sizes and descriptions.
It is hard to determine if the crowd of people in front of the fish market are there in early morning to buy fresh fish or if they are awaiting the arrival of the train. In the center of the painting just above the edge of the crowd is indication of a faint circular line, marked by tiny strokes that may represent people, which may be the railroad tracks. This is easily verified when the two paintings are side-by-side. It is a particular phenomenon in Pissarro’s paintings that very often in the center of the painting, there is simply nothing. And this is one of them; all the action is happening around the center which is empty. Just above the center of the canvas, Pissarro depicts the row of houses that line quai Duquesne as flat blocks with no volume. One steeply pitched red roof seems to draw the eye back to the fish market below. The spindly masts and dark sails of the boats on the right struggle to balance the large building and crowd on the left. Perhaps that is why Pissarro placed a puff of dark smoke above the boats. Since it is similar in color to the roof of the market, it creates a diagonal that pulls the eye upward and to the right of the canvas. The dark smoke could well have been present since some of the steamboats that plied the English Channel also had sails, as Pissarro showed in other paintings from this series.
This Pissarro painting looks simple at first glance, but as is frequently the case with Pissarro, it turns out to be more complicated and far more interesting in a closer look. Pissarro obviously enjoyed the city, writing: “Dieppe is a wonderful place for a painter who likes life, movement, colors.”
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ABSTRACT PISSARRO, the book that shows how Pissarro planted the seeds of abstract art in the mid 1850s, is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.
PISSARRO’S PLACES, the book that explores the places Pissarro painted (including Dieppe), is also available on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.