Pissarro: Camille Pissarro, 1830-1903 Hardcover – 1 Jan 1980
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And it is not surprising, then, that the catalogue should begin with an essay entitled "Camille Pissarro: A Revision." Its author, Richard Brettell, says at the outset that his piece "is based on the assumption that Pissarro's art has been misunderstood" (13). Indeed, Brettell contends that Pissarro has been the victim of a double misunderstanding; as the Impressionist he undoubtedly was, he has been affected firstly by the misunderstanding of Impressionism in general, and secondly by the misperception of his own aesthetic and ideological program in particular. Brettell's brief overview of the artist's life and work intends to set the record straight and creates the tone for the rest of the volume. It was no longer possible to accept the notion of a unified movement of painters spontaneously creating pictures of a carefree bourgeois world. Pissarro's acceptance of industrial images in his landscapes, his attention to the figure of the peasant as a market producer rather than a subsistence farmer, the way he edited and altered his landscapes to tailor them to his social vision and anarchist sympathies, and above all the meticulous preparation he did for many of his most "impressionistic" paintings--all this did not sit well with the received notion of the Impressionist as one who directly transfers visual information onto canvas. Since then, such arguments have been extensively elaborated by many people and by Brettell himself in his books "Pissarro and Pontoise: The Painter in a Landscape," "The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro's Series Paintings" (with Joachim Pissarro), and "Pissarro's People" (see my reviews of those books on this website).
The present catalogue is divided into five sections: paintings, drawings, prints, fans, and ceramics; and each proceeds chronologically through its genre. The major part is devoted to ninety-three paintings, from an 1856 coconut tree on St. Thomas to the last self-portrait from 1903, the painter's final year. This time is further subdivided into five periods on the basis of stylistic coherence, each of which has several paragraphs of general introduction. The paintings are identified by their common English and French titles, numbers in the catalogue raisonnee of Pissarro and Venturi, medium, support, dimensions, location, provenance, special literature and previous exhibitions (this is a serious, scholarly catalogue) and are excellently commented on by Christopher Lloyd and Anne Distel. The authors make frequent tantalizing references to other paintings by Pissarro and his contemporaries, but there are disappointingly few comparison illustrations. (Nor are there any detail blow-ups, which is particularly frustrating given all the mention of brush-work, and only sixteen of the reproductions are in color). Lloyd is responsible for presenting the drawings, also from 1852 to 1903. There are fifty-six of them, a more generous offering than we would expect and also expertly commented--Lloyd at that point had just published (with Brettell] the definitive "Catalog of the Drawings by Camille Pissarro in the Ashmolean Museum." Barbara Stern Shapiro presents and expertly discusses about sixty of Pissarro's prints, and here we can only wonder at the artist's devotion to this medium in all its aspects, from etching to acquatint, drypoint, lithograph (Pissarro "raised the technique of lithography to expressive heights" ), monotype, etc., and all the possible combinations: he was immensely inventive, frequently working with and inspiring and being inspired by Degas. Although interesting to see, the fans and ceramics are oddities, included here for the sake of comprehensiveness. The volume features also a chronology illustrated by a number of photographs of the artist and his family and friends; "Looking at Pissarro," a fine essay by Francoise Cachin on the painter's contemporary reception by other artists and the cultural press; and a section "Impressions of Pissarro," a brief commented collection of contemporary portraits of the painter by other artists, including his family members. This is, then, a venerable and seminal retrospective which thirty years ago gave the initial impetus to what is now a well-established corpus of Pissarro studies. Although some of the material has necessarily been superseded by subsequent discussion, it remains a solid scholarly accomplishment and a book of fundamental historical importance.
[N.B.: There seems to be some confusion as to exactly what book this is. As there is no editor indicated on the title page, I have put it down to the major contributor, Christopher Lloyd. Although John Rewald wrote the brief Foreward to it, it is not his book on Pissarro, in any of its editions, nor is it the book reviewed so negatively by "Ted H.," the previous Amazon reviewer.]