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  • Writer's pictureAnn Saul

YES….There are Pissarro Paintings at Pitti Palace in Florence

In a Kitchen Garden – PDR 558

Landscape Near Pontoise” – PDR 517

It seemed unlikely that Pissarro paintings would be in Florence, Italy. But there it was in the index of the Pissarro Critical Catalogue (Joachim Pissarro-Claire Durand-Ruel Snoellerts, 2005).

I had been to Pitti Palace before, but once again I was astounded by the opulence of the building and its furnishings. Upstairs in the Modern Gallery, I glanced in the side rooms, most of which were cordoned off with velvet ropes.  Inside one door was a small painting with familiar contours and shades of green.  It was Pissarro’s “Landscape Near Pontoise” (PDR 517). Just to the right and up higher, I thought I saw another Pissarro. I couldn’t be sure since there was a glare on the glass. I stood for a long time, straining my eyes but unable to really see either painting.

The guard was sitting in a nearby corner. I asked in my most courteous way if it would be possible to step just inside the door to see the Pissarros. “No,” polite but firm. Then I became desperate—how could I be so close and still not see them?  I poured out my heart….about studying Pissarro’s art for more than twenty years, writing a book about Pissarro, traveling all over the world (well, three continents) to see Pissarro paintings. She looked up from her book and said to me in English, “Wait.”

After a few minutes, she came back with a security guard, who as he approached me was already shaking his head no. He looked at me and I began my story again. I’ll never know if he understood what I said, but he obviously understood my longing.  “Just one minute,” he said as he lifted the velvet rope.

Inside, I had a perfect view of the landscape and was able to study the other painting, “In a Kitchen Garden” (PDR 558). The three of us—me and the two guards—stood there talking about how magnificent the paintings were. We attracted a small crowd drawn by the unusual event, so I had to go. But I had a good look at paintings that have probably been seen by very few people, compared to other Pissarro paintings in museums.

The Landscape was painted in 1877, and the Garden was painted in 1878, both of them while Pissarro was living in Pontoise. Both were painted after the Third Impressionist Exhibition in April 1877.  Both were purchased in Paris by the same man, Diego Martelli, an art critic from Florence, Italy and a friend of Degas. Martelli was a prominent supporter of the Macchiaioli, a group of Italian artists who painted in plein air and focused on light and color in much the same way as the French Impressionists.

Since Martelli took them home, the Pissarro paintings have never left Italy. Martelli loaned them both to an exhibition “Esposizione della Società di Incoraggiamento delle Belle Arti,” at the Pitti Palace in 1879. They were then bequeathed by Martelli to the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Since 1924, they have been in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna at the Pitti Palace.

They have been featured in exhibitions of French paintings in Florence, Rome and Venice. The Landscape was featured in exhibitions in Livorno and Reviso, and in 1997 it was included in an exhibition, “Camille Pissarro,” in Ferrara, Italy. It is little wonder that most of us have never seen these paintings. Though there was little opportunity to really study them, I am convinced that they are both superb examples of Pissarro’s work at the height of the Impressionist Movement.

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