The Path, 1889 Camille Pissarro, PDR 871 Detroit Institute of Art
This beautiful pointillist painting by Pissarro at Detroit Institute of Art is one of those owned by the City of Detroit and may be caught in the middle of the city’s bankruptcy.
According to an article in the Washington Post (December 16, 2013) “Christie’s, which has been poring over the collection for months, said it will include recommendations for how Detroit might make money while maintaining ownership of some of its most valuable pieces — including Degas’ ”Dancers in the Green Room,” Pissarro’s “The Path” and Renoir’s “Graziella.” But the city may have to sell off works many consider integral to the cultural soul of the city in order to help repay creditors, including retired public workers whose pensions could take a huge hit.”
It is ironic that Pissarro himself was in a terrible financial crunch during the time that he painted this picture. In May of 1889, he wrote, “Business (since it always comes down to that) is catastrophic.” The following year, he became disenchanted with pointillism, and abandoned Neo-Impressionism.
This painting is not one of Pissarro’s more familiar paintings. It has been included in only four exhibitions, the most recent one in Japan in 1990. But it demonstrates his amazing technical ability which literally pours the rigidity of pointillism into sheer poetry.
Pissarro cleverly uses pointilism’s dot to convey the multicolored autumn trees. But it is the overall composition which grabs our attention. The entire right side of the canvas is virtually “in our face,” filling the foreground with the windowless side of a house and a massive tree whose branches fill the canvas top. While we cling to the green embankment, we see the path extending around a curve to more houses and hills in the distance. The variegated sky adds a sense of uncertainty.
Clearly, this is not a painting we absorb in one glance–there is much to examine and ponder. Let’s hope that the City of Detroit will have time to reconsider “The Path” and that it will be included in future exhibitions shown around the world.
Information on Pissarro’s life and this painting is from Pissarro:Critical Catalogue by Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts (2005).