P is for Pissarro and ‘The Golden Age of Peasantry’

camille pissarro - peasants houses eragnyMy father once told me that the average non-art-appreciator could not differentiate between a Picasso and a Pissarro, and if asked, would most likely define the latter as a French term for a public toilet. So, for those of you who do not know of Pissarro’s work – please read on. (left: Peasants houses Eragny).

Born on 10th July 1830, on the island of St Thomas (now part of USA Virgin Islands; but then part of the Danish West Indies), Camille Pissarro became a famous and much admired Danish-French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artist.

His French merchant father of Portuguese-Jewish descent went to St. Thomas to deal with the business affairs of his deceased uncle and ended up marrying his widow – a native Creole.

camille pissarro - sunset at eragnyA fellow St. Thomas inhabitant was Danish artist Fritz Melbye, who inspired a young Pissarro to embark on a full-time career as an artist. The two budding artists then moved to  Venezuela, where they spent the next two years in Caracas and La Guaira. During this time Pissarro drew everything he could, including landscapes, village scenes and numerous sketches; enough to fill up multiple sketchbooks.  (Sunset at Eragny).

By 1855, Pissarro was living in Paris and working as an assistant to Anton Melbye, Fritz’s brother. Pissarro enrolled in various art classes and was taught by various art masters from the École des Beaux-Arts and Académie Suisse, including: Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac.

camille pissaro prairie a erogny 1886Jean-François Millet was another whose work Pissarro admired, especially his “sentimental renditions of rural life”.  Thus, Pissarro’s paintings often depict nature and rural scenes which he referred to as “plein air” painting.  As a consequence, his work remained mostly agricultural and has sometimes been referred to as the “golden age of the peasantry”. (Right: – Prairie at Eragny 1886).

  • In 1873 Pissarro helped establish a collective society of 15 aspiring artists.
  • He is the only artist to have shown his work at all eight Paris Impressionist exhibitions, from 1874 to 1886.

camille pissarro - banks of the viosne at osny(Right: The Banks of the Viosne at Osny in grey weather, Winter (Bords de la Viosne a Osny, temps gris, hiver) oil on canvas, (1883). In 1882 Pissarro and his family moved to the village of Osny, NW of Paris and within easy reach of the capital. This painting of a corner of Osny, seen through a stand of trees, was made in the period following a time of experimentation when Pissarro moved away from the characteristic Impressionist style in favour of a tougher paint surface, seen here in the density of the paint layer and the complexity of the brushstrokes. (Felton Bequest, NGV).

  • Camille Pissaro died 112 years ago, on 13th November, 1903.
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One Response to P is for Pissarro and ‘The Golden Age of Peasantry’

  1. debiriley says:

    your opening sentence had me chuckling, so true! I love Pissarro, but had no idea of his family’s history, which you pointed out. Great post, thanks for sharing! cheers, Debi

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