TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 March 2014
Amongst the French Impressionists, Camille Pissarro was the only painter to show his work at all of the eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1874-1886. As a Jew, albeit a non-observant one, born in the Caribbean who retained his Danish passport throughout his life, Pissarro was an outsider, a situation that undoubtedly contributed to his artistic, personal and political independence.
This book, one of the Phaidon Colour Library series, was first published in 1979 and reprinted in an enlarged and revised edition in 1992. The updated essay, complemented by 17 b/w figures, is by Christopher Lloyd and Amanda Renshaw has contributed commentaries to the 48 colour plates and 18 b/w and colour comparative illustrations. There is also an Outline Biography and a brief Select Bibliography, as well as lists of the colour plates, figures in the text and those included in the commentaries. The plates range chronologically from “The Banks of the Marne”, 1864, showing the influence of Corot from whom the young artist received informal advice and encouragement, to a group of paintings from the artist’s final year, including “Self-Portrait”, 1903, the work that is reproduced on the front cover.
Like Renoir and unlike Sisley, Pissarro’s style changed between the 1870s and 1880s, including exploration of Pointillism in “View from my Window, Eragny”, 1886-88, and “The Apple Pickers, Eragny”, 1888. In the 1890s, the artist’s style returned to something close to that of the 1870s. Amongst the less common genres including in this book are “Still Life”, 1867, and “Pink Peonies”, 1873.
In addition to the final self-portrait, figurative works include “Portrait of Jeanne”, 1872, which shows the artist’s ten-year old daughter who was to die just two years later, “Portrait of Cézanne”, 1874, “Female Peasant Carding Wool”, 1875, “Breakfast, Young Female Peasant taking her Coffee”, 1881, “The Little Country Maid” and “The Poultry Market, Pontoise”, both 1882, “The Pork Butcher”, 1883, “Two Female Peasants Chatting”, 1892, in which the conversation is held between figures on either side of the canvas, “Young Woman Bathing her Feet” and “Young Girl Mending her Stockings”, both 1895, and “The Young Maid”, 1896, which reveal Pissarro’s personal interest in peasants and workers in society.
However, it is Pissarro’s landscapes that reach the greatest heights and in this book we see the conventional paintings, of the 1860s [such as “The Banks of the Marne at Chennevières”, 1864-65, “View of l’Hermitage”, 1867, “View of Pontoise: Quai du Pothuis”, 1868, and “Lordship Lane, Dulwich”, 1871] giving way to a much freer approach as the shadow of the earlier artists recedes, as in “The Entrance to the Village of Voisons”, 1872, “The Hoar Frost”, 1873, “The Pond at Montfoucault”, 1875, “The Red Roofs, Corner of a Village, Winter”, “Kitchen Garden with Trees in Flower, Spring, Pontoise”, and “The Diligence on the Road from Ennery to l’Hermitage, Pontoise”, all 1877, and the ghostly “The Outer Boulevards, Snow”, 1879.
In “Landscape at Chaponval”, 1880, the artist uses flecks of paint to build up a series of horizontal strips and uses blues not just for the sky but also for roofs and the dress of the centrally placed figure. “The Harvest”, 1882, painted at yet another a time of great hardship for his family, places the nearest figures off-centre and the eye is dragged from them across the slashes of the harvested corn. “View from my Window, Eragny”, 1886-88, with its pastel Pointillist colouring, is my favourite work in this book.
Impressed by Monet’s series paintings, in the 1990s Pissarro painted a series of works of the bridge crossing the Seine at Rouen under different weather conditions, “The Great Bridge, Rouen” and “The Boieldieu Bridge, Rouen, Sunset”, both 1896, and later painted the grandes boulevards of Paris under differing climatic conditions, “Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, Morning, Sunlight”, 1897, “La Place du Théâtre Français, Paris, Rain”, 1898, and “The Tuileries Gardens, Paris, Rain”, 1899. The final landscapes in this book show the artist at the height of his powers, “The Church of Saint-Jacques, Dieppe”, 1901, “Sunset at Eragny” and “Dieppe, Duquesne Basin, Low Tide, Sun, Morning”, both 1902, and “The Pilot’s Jetty, Le Havre, Morning, Grey Weather, Misty”, “The Pont Royal and the Pavillon de Flore, Paris” and “The Seine and the Louvre, Paris”, all 1903.
As to be expected from Phaidon, this is an excellent book, 9/10.