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  • Writer's pictureAnn Saul

Pissarro–Looking Beyond the Obvious

350 Landscape, Bright Sunlight, Pontoise 1874

Landscape, Bright Sunlight, Pontoise, 1874, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, PDRS 350

Pissarro’s landscapes can be deceptive. To the casual viewer, this painting looks pleasant but hardly exciting. The colors—harmonious shades of green and blue are lovely, but there is no red, no orange to grab the eye. The scene includes a man on a horse and a woman with a little girl, but no interaction. In fact, they are going opposite directions. The background of trees and houses seem to push forward instead of receding.

Our eyes are drawn to the patch of sunlight—not bright yellow, but pale peach streaked with purple shadows. Once again, Pissarro focuses our attention on the center of the painting where there is nothing at all of importance—a painting with no real focal point, where every element is equal. This is a device that Pissarro uses frequently, creating an all-over effect (an abstract device) in what appears to be a traditional landscape.

Pissarro, the master of composition, uses the shadows to create a series of diagonal lines that continue through the grasses in the lower left corner. The tree trunks that dominate the right side lean heavily to the left. If they were to fall over, they would follow the lines of the shadows into the grass. The strong horizontal of the road with its perpendicular path counters the heaviness of the diagonals.

This painting is also a virtuosic display of brushwork. The grasses are quick up-and-down strokes in various shades of green.


At the base of the tree trunk are mere touches of paint with no effort to shape them into leaves.


The figures on the right are merely streaks of paint—no more than a dozen visible brushstrokes and no defined face. Yet Pissarro arranges those rough marks in a way that causes us to see a woman and child.

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While this landscape may seem traditional, its radical composition and brushwork reveal Pissarro’s highly innovative techniques. It is often the less obvious paintings that offer the most surprises.

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ABSTRACT PISSARRO — now available on Amazon

One of the reviews of ABSTRACT PISSARRO

It was not for nothing that Paul Cezanne called himself a “pupil of Pissarro”. Now, finally! – – an author who approaches Camille Pissarro as the brilliant quiet revolutionary he was. In 2030, we will celebrate the Master’s two hundredth birthday. Problem is, history has doffed a respectful hat to Pissarro without acknowledging that his Mastery – – – and his abiding influence on so many others – – – helped birth not only Impressionism but the abstract values that presaged the wrenching directions of twentieth century expression. Beatifully produced with gorgeous illustrations, Saul’s book is graciously written, with comparative analysis that is fiercely independent, accessible and unexceptionable. A must-have volume that reshapes our thinking about Pissarro and modern art.

                                                                                                 Marshall Portnoy

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