Pissarro’s Birthday – July 10, 1830
On July 10, 1830, Camille Pissarro was born in Charlotte Amalie, the principal city on the island of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. At the age of 12, his parents sent him to private school in Passy, a suburb of Paris, where he learned to draw. From that time forward, his life was devoted to art.
At the age of 53, he wrote his son Lucien, “Painting, art in general, enchants me. It is my life. What else matters? When you put all your soul into a work, all that is noble in you, you cannot fail to find a kindred soul who understands you, and you do not need a host of such spirits. Is not that all an artist should wish for?”*
Today, there are hosts of kindred souls who love Pissarro’s work. Two exhibitions in Paris were filled with people; one extended its time for two extra weeks. In Pontoise, viewers crowded the galleries to look at his engravings. Even in Copenhagen, large groups came to see the early works of Pissarro. Since this blog on Pissarro began in 2012, there have been 23,420 views from readers on six continents, showing the international appeal of Pissarro’s work.
But Pissarro was never satisfied with the present; he was always looking for innovative techniques, bigger challenges, and new ways to express his “sensations.” While he is considered “The First Among the Impressionists,” he is so much more.
The only way to understand his artistic contribution is to look at his work, not through the microscope of Impressionism, but with a wide-angle lens that includes the generations of painters who followed him. Some of the techniques he pioneered had no name in his time; now, we see them as virtually abstract. Our comprehension of Pissarro’s genius has only just begun.
The Flock of Sheep, Eragny, 1888 Private collection, PDRS 860
In just thirteen years, we will mark Pissarro’s 200th birthday. He will be the first Impressionist to reach that milestone. How should he be remembered in that year? Here are some possibilities:
— A comprehensive retrospective in major museums in France and the United States.
— A scholarly symposium that looks at Pissarro’s work as seminal in the wide scope of modern and contemporary art, resulting in publications. (An excellent symposium was held in 2003 commemorating the 100th anniversary of Pissarro’s death, but it centered on his role as Impressionist.)
— New research into Pissarro’s work by graduate students of art schools and universities.
— A new more comprehensive biography, including extensive new information from the 2005 catalogue raisonne (Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts).
It is not too soon to begin thinking about 2030—good exhibitions, research, and publication of books take time. And when Pissarro’s work is in focus, there are always surprises.
*Letter of November 20, 1883, Letters to His Son Lucien, edited by John Rewald.