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  • Writer's pictureAnn Saul


Chestnut Trees in Osny, 1883, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland PDRS 715

July 10 is the 191st birthday of Camille Pissarro. Born in 1830 in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, he became a great artist—one whose early paintings were daring, radical and uncompromising. Even today, his paintings challenge what is currently believed about Modern art.

By the time he made this painting, Chestnut Trees in Osny, he had moved to Paris (1855), defied academic art, walked away from the Paris Salon (even though 11 of his paintings were accepted there), spearheaded the Impressionist movement and taken part in seven Impressionist exhibitions (he would be part of the eighth, as well), and was well on his way into what would become Pointillism.

Pissarro had lived with his family in Pontoise, just north of Paris from 1866-1868 and again from 1872-1882. But it had become too expensive, and they moved to the nearby village of Osny until he could find a more suitable place to settle. It was during this time in 1883 that he made this painting of a large old chestnut tree.

The composition may seem somewhat conventional for Pissarro, who often confounds the eye with diagonal lines and overlapping images. But it shows just how close Pissarro already was to the pointillist technique, which he would embrace two years later in 1885 when he met Seurat. Even as a young painter in the Caribbean (1852-54), Pissarro was using tiny brushstrokes in many separate, unblended shades of yellow and green.

In this painting, the tiny specks of paint are most evident in the foreground where the shaded green and yellow background is dotted with dark green and white, portraying sunlight through unseen foliage at the top of the tree. A patch of full sunlight just beyond is portrayed by touches of yellow, white and pale green. The distant tree on the left shows no painted structure of trunk and limbs; it is composed entirely of dabs of paint, dark green interspersed with lighter green and yellow. The only full brushstrokes are the brown and dark grey ones that compose the trunk and branches of the big tree and the tiny strokes that make up the blue and grey roofs of the little white houses in the distance.

This wonderful painting is at the Kunstmuseum Basel, and perhaps it will be part of the exhibition opening there on September 4 entitled Camille Pissarro: The Studio of Modernism. Information about the exhibition says: “Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) ranks among the most distinguished artists of nineteenth-century France. To retrace the arc of his exceptionally diverse oeuvre is to witness the birth of modernism. And yet today’s histories of art often cast Pissarro in a subsidiary role.”  Perhaps this important exhibition will lay the groundwork for recognizing Pissarro as the innovator of Modern art that he was.  For more information on the exhibition:

I am honored that my latest book, Abstract Pissarro, was included in a review by David Carrier for Hyperallergic

Abstract Pissarro is available online at Bookshop, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Visit my website for more information on Pissarro and my books:

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