While Claude Monet and Sisley both preferred the ever-changing reflections of water
as subjects, Pissarro liked painting dry land. He tends to concentrate less on evanescent colour effects and more on construction and form. He has something of Millet about him in his preference for rural subjects and country life, although he uses a typically fragmented Impressionist technique. Monet, Sisley, Renoir and others among their friends all seem to have put up their easels wherever the fancy took them, if they happened to like the view or the particular light effects. Pissarro on the other hand used to choose his subjects deliberately; he liked painting cultivated fields and villages, country roads leading to grassy meadows, orchards and so on. Like Millet, he took an interest in the men who tilled the ground as well as in the countryside itself, so we often find his pictures include figures of peasants and domestic animals. Zola wrote that 'in his paintings you can hear the earth's deep voices'. Because of his love for the earth he always tended to set his horizons very high up in the picture, just as Millet did, leaving very little room for sky; it may be partly because of this liking for solid not ephemeral things that he attracted Cezanne so much; indeed they often worked together, and Pissarro introduced Cezanne to the Impressionist vision and technique. Pissarro was a convinced socialist, and because of this, tended to make the figures in his pictures peasants, and to paint market scenes. His independence and political convictions make him stand out as a personality among his friends in the group. Staunch supporter of the Impressionist 'revolution', he was the only one
to show his work in all eight Impressionist exhibitions, from 1874 to 1886; in fact he used to say 'My own life is bound up with the life of Impressionism' . Pissarro's father was a French Jew of Portuguese origin. In 184 I Camille left the West Indies for Paris, to study at the Pension Savary where drawing from nature was
taught - an extrimly rare thing at the time. In 1847 he returned to Saint-Thomas and
went into his father's business, but in 1852 the attraction of an artist's life became too strong for him and he went off with the Danish artist Fritz Melbye. They went first to Venezuela, but towards the end of 1855 we find him in Paris, as a pupil in Anton Melbye's studio. He was also helped and influenced by Corot, whom he much admired, and by Courbet. In 1857 he met the young painter Claude Monet at the Academie Suisse, painting near Paris. Several of Pissarro's works between 1859 and
1870 were accepted for the Salon, and the critic Castagnary also noticed three paintings of his in the Salon des Refuses in 1863. In 1864 he went to Montfoucault (Mayenne) to stay with his friend Ludovic Piette, and in 1866 went to live at Pontoise, where he often chose the slopes of l'Ermitage as a subject for painting. From 1868 to 1870 he was living at Louveciennes. The paintings executed during this period were still very much influenced by Corot and Daubigny; they include La Cote de
l' Ermitage, Pontoise, 1867; La Cote de Jallais, Pontoise, 1867; The Louveciennes road; The Stagecoach at Louveciennes, and the Versailles road III Louveciennes, all three painted in 1870.During the 1870 war Pissarro took refuge illLondon where he stayed till 1871 and met Claude Monet. Together they studiedTurner's painting, and during this periodPissarro's work included: Snow at Upper Norwood (1870), Penge Station, Upper Norwood (1871) and Upper Norwood road with a carriage, in overcast weather (1871).Pissarro went back to Louveciennes on hisreturn to France in June 1871 and from thereto Pontoise where he lived from 1872 to 1884,although he also had a studio at Montmartre.He and the artist Vignon became friends, andCezanne came to paint with him, both at Pontoise and at Auvers-sur-Oise. This was oneof the most prolific periods of his career; hisworks then included: Route de Louveciennes(1872), Le Lavoir, Pontoise (1872), Haystack at
Pontoise (1873), Maison bourgeoise a l'Ermitage, Pontoise (1873), Peasant woman pushing a wheelbarrow(1874), March sunshine, Pontoise (1875). After 1881 Pissarro, like Renoir (who alsochanged style around this time) and Cezanne,
began to realise that something was lacking in Impressionism, and that a more solid and structural approach was needed; he moved into a 'constructive' period when his art became simpler and more synthetic. In 1883 Pissarro went to paint at Rouen, particularly round the port, and later went to live at Eragny not far from Cisors (Eure). He was one of the first exhibitors at the Salon des Independants, and in 1885 Signac introduced him to Seurat. From that time onwards he attached himself to the Neo- Impressionists' group and practiced stippling and pointillism until about 1890. He and his son Lucien joined the groups in exhibiting at the eighth and last Impressionist exhibition in 1886, but Camille's technique is noticeably less extreme than that of most of the Neo-Impressionists. Paintings of this period include The Dieppe train, Eragny (1887) and Ile Lacroix, Rouen, in fog (1888). Towards 1888 or 1890, he gave up the technique which no longer satisfied him. He went back to Impressionist technique in the landscapes and rural scenes, painted in bright colours and with powerful light effects, which he painted at Eragny. In 1892 Durand-Ruel organized a huge retrospective exhibition of his work, which consolidated his success as a painter.
Each year he spent the summer at Eragny and painted landscapes of the surrounding
country and the village, fields and orchards. He also executed many drawings, watercolours and gouaches of very high quality. Cezanne's words sum him up both as a man and an artist: 'Humble and colossal'.
Based on Phaidon encyclopedia of Impressionism, Maurice Serullaz, Phaidon, 1978