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  • Writer's pictureAnn Saul


vue of the cote Saint-Denis, Pontoise 1867

View of the Côte Saint-Denis, Pontoise (c. 1867)

This beautiful painting, View of the Côte Saint-Denis, Pontoise (c. 1867) should have been included in the new book Abstract Pissarro. It is almost a textbook case for the abstract elements Pissarro initiated during his first years as a working artist in Paris.

This painting may look traditional to us, but it would have been considered radical at the time. Pissarro used elements that were unconventional and generally unacceptable by French art standards. (Note the underlined elements.) For instance, the site is an ordinary, unimportant place showing nothing of interest. There is no real focal point; while the yellow house in the center seems to draw the eye, it is not an important object or place, and we can’t even see all of it. Instead of making the surface smooth, Pissarro exaggerated his visible brushstrokes. The houses are flattened against the canvas, with no volume, and their forms are created from mere patches of color. The hill behind the houses pushes forward with its intense colors eliminating any sense of depth or perspective. The stripes on those hills, suggesting different fields, are composed of color blocks side-by-side with no transitional tones. The evidence of several kinds of brushstrokes and multiple shades of dark green suggest that Pissarro was perhaps as interested in the paint on the canvas (materiality) as he was in depicting the scene.  The eight underlined phrases above are among the abstract elements that Pissarro used in his early paintings. They were quickly adopted by other artists who later became known as the Impressionists and are so familiar to us now that we do not recognize them as radical.

Pissarro used a number of different brush techniques in this painting. One in particular, the side-by-side strokes so evident in shades of rust and dark green on the hillsides is, in fact, the “constructive” stroke that Cézanne would several years later learn from Pissarro and take as his own signature technique.

This painting definitely should have been in the new book Abstract Pissarro. But there are so many others that could also have been included.  The book is almost finished and will be in print in a few weeks.

ABSTRACT PISSARRO, the book that investigates the abstract elements in the paintings of Camille Pissarro, will be available in late March or April.  Watch this blog for additional information.

NOTE:   The catalogue raisonné, Pissarro: Critical Catalogue (Pissarro and Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, 2005) says this is the same location depicted by Pissarro in his painting La Côte des Bœufs, Pontoise (1877). I have stood in that spot several times, and while I had not recognized it previously, I now realize that it is the same place I visited to take photographs several years ago.  The lane depicted is a private road leading to several small houses. For the later picture, Pissarro simply moved his easel to the left of the small lane. Sadly, that place is now paved and accommodates an unsightly commercial facility.

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