Pissarro in Germany
View of Bazincourt, Effect of Snow, Sunset, 1892, Museum Barberini, Potsdam, Germany, PDRS 969
The quiet stillness of the winter afternoon is almost palpable in this masterpiece by Pissarro. Nothing is moving except the sun and the colored shadows it casts on the snowy meadow. He painted this same view two other times that year; one on a frosty morning (PDRS 966) and another on an overcast day (PDRS 970). When the three were exhibited together in an exhibition of Pissarro’s works at Durand-Ruel’s gallery in March 1894, a critic for L’Art Français wrote: “Never has this painter of light been so felicitous; never has his gaze been so keen, and never has he rendered with such tenderness the sparkle of snow in the glow of early morning or the muted hue and majesty of the village steeple thrusting its purple silhouette into the gold of the setting sun.”1
Earlier that year in the summer, Pissarro painted the same view; but this time the meadow was green with trees in full leaf (PDRS 960). Both of these paintings are at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany. How wonderful it must be to see them together and compare the seasonal nuances.
View of Bazincourt, Sunset, 1892, Museum Barberini, Potsdam, Germany PDRS 960
The summer view helps us interpret the brushstrokes seen in the snowy painting. It shows a row of small trees in the right foreground, willows lining the tiny Epte River meandering through the meadow behind Pissarro’s house. This painting shows only one of the sharp angles, but the snowy view shows another sharp angle to the left of this one. Just how tiny that river is can be seen in this contemporary photo by the author taken near what was then the Pissarro property.
River Epte, photo by author
Pissarro would have made these paintings from his studio in the barn, seated at a back window facing the village of Bazincourt. A painting made several years earlier from his house shows the big barn on the left and at the back of the meadow, the line of small willows mark the presence of the Epte in front of the heavy bank of trees.
View from my Window, Éragny, 1886, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford, UK, PDRS 825
The snowy painting is almost abstract with its squiggly lines and heavy brushstrokes, so thick they look like frosting. The expansive meadow in the foreground appears to be white, but is touched with pale violet shadows at the lower edge fading to even lighter lemon streaks nearer the trees. The sky fills the top of the canvas with shadings in reverse colors, more light lemon tinged with even lighter violet. The sun itself is cold, a brittle lemon yellow—not at all the golden sun most artists paint. In the middle are leafless trees, surreal in appearance, no more than grey-green brushstrokes. The little willows, so verdant in the summer painting, are tiny marks, unidentifiable in this setting. The steeple is a sharp little point above a tiny patch of crimson which must be the church. Another bit of crimson adorns a cottage while random patches of soft pink pull the gaze around the painting.
At first glance, the eye sees only the beauty of the snowy scene. But a closer, more intimate look reveals the delicate colors and elegant brushstrokes—a rich reward for spending a few moments in the company of Pissarro.
1Pissarro: Critical Catalogue of Paintings, Pissarro and Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, 2005, Vol. III, p. 632.
I am honored that my latest book, Abstract Pissarro, was included in a review by David Carrier for Hyperallergic https://hyperallergic.com/589404/the-end-of-art-history/
Abstract Pissarro is available online at Bookshop, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.