PISSARRO — THE PATHFINDER
The Cabbage Field, Pontoise, 1873 Museo Thyssen-Bornemiszo, Madrid
This Season: Olivia Weinberg’s pick of the exhibitions is the one devoted to the man who inspired Cézanne
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2013
He was calm and clear-eyed, with a rabbinical beard and a humble smile. Cézanne called him a “master” and “a father for me”; Renoir said he was a “revolutionary”. He was the only artist to exhibit at all eight Impressionist shows between 1874 and 1886, and he wrote the movement’s founding letter. Camille Pissarro deserves more attention than he tends to get.
He is best known for his quiet grassy paintings of the lush French countryside: big wholesome fields, fluttering leaves that whisper in the wind and scruffy haystacks in all shapes and sizes. But Pissarro also had a lifelong interest in the human condition, exceptional in a landscape painter.
Think of Cézanne, Monet or Sisley: their landscapes show barely any sign of human life. Unlike his younger peers, Pissarro (1830-1903) painted less than a handful of unpopulated scenes—and his figures are always well worth a look. Some stand at the forefront, impossible to ignore, like “The Haymaker”, 1884; others dissolve silently into the background. “The Cabbage Field, Pontoise”, 1873 (above), is a simple study of lights and darks, with no frills, no pretence. The brushstrokes are lively and the thick impasto catches the sunlight. The canvas is covered in more than 50 shades of green, apart from a tiny hunched figure in blue, easy to miss. But in each setting Pissarro places ordinary people in their ordinary environment and gives us just enough detail to understand the landscape through them. He presents an uncomplicated rustic world that bristles with real social observation. His paintings quiver with life.
Never afraid to experiment, he changed his approach more than any other artist in the Impressionist circle, and in his late sixties he turned to the city. In 1897 he rented a room at the Hôtel de Russie in Paris and produced a series of paintings looking down the Boulevard Montmartre. Different from his landscapes—less intimate, more rapid—they are nonetheless every bit as accomplished. Now, finally, we have an exhibition that attempts to restore his reputation as one of the path-finders of modern art. Unaccompanied by his peers, this is all about Pissarro.
Pissarro Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, June 4th to Sept 15th; Caixa Forum, Barcelona (dates TBC)
From The Economist, Intelligent Life Magazine, May-June 2013