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a few kind words for Pissarro

musee-pissarro-pontoiseToday I went to Pontoise, and visited the small museum dedicated to one of its most famous (late) citizens, Camille Pissarro.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you know that Pisarro was an impressionist artist who achieved nowhere near the posthumous fame of his contemporaries and students. And perhaps, you might have even thought he was a woman with a name like Camille. I did until I saw a picture of him — the beard cleared up that misconception.


Granted, compared to the other artists who took up residence in the Val d’oise, he was a bit dull. By all accounts, he was happily married, lived a long life, had no physical deformities (self induced or otherwise) and he wasn’t wasn’t insane or drug addicted. To draw a comparison, I suppose he would be George Harrison to the other artists’ John and Paul (I’m not sure where Ringo fits in so I’ll just ignore him).

Pissarro was an anarchist, a revolutionary in his time. He too was talented. He was also dedicated to evolving the style that was so popular in his time. But he was a decent guy and relatively stable, so the other artists got all the attention.

As far as I’m concerned, he had to be fairly well-adjusted in order to be a stable father and mentor to the artists he nurtured and inspired. While his students and contemporaries get all the credit and attention, their paintings as well as his own, are Pisarro’s legacy.

Landscape-Near-Pontoise,-The-Auvers-Road,-1881Pissarro The Garden at Pontoisesaltz6-27-5pissarro12images-1His painting style is quite pleasing, sort of a cross between Cezanne and Monet with a touch of Seurat. All of whom followed Pisarro and were influenced by his work. He was able to achieve a certain success in life that the others didn’t (maybe because he did live a long life), which allowed him to help other artists, but may be the reason he was so … well, normal.

Now, I can certainly identify with the poor, crazy depressed artists who starved and struggled to achieve even a tiny scrap of success.

But jeez, how about a little credit for good old Pissarro? Not only for his work, but for the fact that without his inner strength and generosity of spirit, we might not have a Van Gogh, or a Cezanne or a Gaugin, all of whom came to the Val d’Oise to paint with him. And in Vincent’s case, it was Pissarro’s recommendation of Dr. Gachet, that brought him to Auvers in the first place. Okay, so Pissarro made a few mistakes, but I bet it was even harder to spot a quack then than it is now. And there’s no denying that Vincent’s short sojourn in Auvers was the most productive time in his short life.

Sure, there’s something romantic about cutting off your ear, or going crazy with syphilis, and starving for your art, but really, these guys were just a bunch of self-centered drama queens. Excellent artists, perhaps with more flair than Pissarro, and certainly deserving of their fame however late it may have come.

But to me, Pisarro has gotten a bum deal posterity-wise. Which just goes to show that it’s not just life that’s unfair. So is death.

4 Responses

  1. Pissarro has long been one of my favorites and I enjoy reading his letters as much as I do looking at his paintings. Van Gogh followed in his footsteps in painting as well as in his letter writing; it’s amazing that there were two such great artists who were also wonderful writers. Thanks for this post.

    • Hi Mari,
      I discovered at impressionist exhibits that often a painting I was drawn to was by Pissarro and wondered why we never learned about him in Art History. I didn’t realize Pissarro had published letters as well. Thank goodness they didn’t live in the age of twitter.

  2. […] a few kind words for Pissarro […]

  3. I also fell in love with the artist and his subject matter when I taught children art history and took them to museums. I knew he was a kindred spirit when I read his quote, “Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”

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