During the winter of 1879-80, Camille Pissarro was improving his printmaking skills in company with Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, in the hope that he might break into this potentially lucrative market.
The French Impressionists were starting to fragment, and Pissarro, along with Degas, Guillaumin and Rouart, was one of the few who had taken part in their first exhibition in 1874 to exhibit in the fifth Impressionist Exhibition in April 1880. That month Edmond Duranty, one of the few critics who had voiced support for the Impressionists, died at the age of only 47.
Pissarro’s finished oil landscapes were now losing their conventional Impressionist facture, as he adopted smaller, staccato brushstrokes and his style became more ‘pointillist’. Landscape at Le Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise from 1880 is a good example where his leaves are starting to shimmer against the sky.
He also started to transfer his attention from the land to its inhabitants, here the rural poor of these Cottages at Le Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise (1880).
This powerful portrait of Mère Larchevêque from 1880 not only reflects his inability to pay models, but his interest in local characters. Often assumed to be just a ‘washerwoman’, she has been identified as a near-neighbour who seems to have been close to the Pissarro family. She has clearly worked hard through her life; this portrait of her drew favourable critical response when it was exhibited at the seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882, but it remained unsold at the time of the artist’s death.
At the end of 1880, when he was in Paris, Pissarro started to develop first symptoms of the eye problems which were to limit his painting so sadly later in his life.
Next year, 1881, saw thirty artists take part in the sixth Impressionist Exhibition, among them the loyal Pissarro who showed 28 oil paintings and fifteen watercolours. In August, the Pissarros’ seventh child was born. It was just as well that Durand-Ruel started buying paintings from Pissarro again later that year!
Peasant Woman Digging, the Jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise (1881) shows a younger woman working in the vegetable garden of this large house in the village of Pontoise. This painting was bought by Durand-Ruel from the artist, and the following year was lent for inclusion in his work at the seventh Impressionist Exhibition.
The Harvest, Pontoise, from 1881, is one of several paintings which Pissarro made focussing more closely on agricultural activities, and which is becoming overtly ‘pointillist’. He couldn’t have painted this in front of the motif, and it turns out to be a second copy of an earlier and apparently identical painting.
This increasingly human content, in paintings such as his Peasant Woman and Child Returning from the Fields, Auvers-sur-Oise from 1881, drew comparisons with Millet, from whom Pissarro sought to distance himself in terms of modernity. This painting was bought by Durand-Ruel later that year, and shown at the seventh Impressionist Exhibition.
Despite all the strains and disputes among the Impressionists, in March 1882 the seventh Impressionist Exhibition was held in Paris. Pissarro was again a major participant, with 36 paintings on show. He at last was enjoying a much better critical reception too.
The Garden at Maubuisson, Pontoise, Mère Bellette from 1882 shows an older woman bent over her work in a more open view of the vegetable garden of this house.
Pissarro’s love of road paintings had faded more with the smaller tracks and more open countryside in this locality, which is shown more typically in The Hills at Le Choux, Pontoise from 1882.
The artist had a particular liking for markets and fairs, which may seem strange for a landscape painter. He painted this scene from The Poultry Market, Pontoise (1882) twice: once using (glue?) distemper, and here in oils, where his use of tiny marks has evolved even further, particularly in the fabrics.
Pissarro didn’t abandon the painting of fans in gouache either. The Railway Bridge at Pontoise from about 1882-83 is reminiscent of Claude Monet’s paintings of a similar bridge at Argenteuil almost a decade earlier.
In December 1882, Pissarro decided to move to Osny, a village to the north of Pontoise, where he spent part of the winter. This was further from the river, and he felt that the dry air there would help him cope better – presumably with his eye condition.
Banks of the Viosne at Osny, Overcast Sky, Winter (1883) is one of the paintings which he appears to have made during his stay there.
In October and November 1883, Pissarro visited the city of Rouen in search of new motifs.
On his way back from this stay, he took the opportunity to spend a few days with Claude Monet’s brother Léon on the Channel coast near Fécamp. Sadly the weather there was grim, with driving rain for much of the time, but he managed to complete two plein air oil sketches including the Cliffs at Les Petites-Dalles (1883). Compare this with the increasingly pointillist facture of his studio paintings at the time.
In the spring of 1884, after careful searching for the right property, the Pissarros moved to the village of Éragny on the bank of the River Epte, where they were to settle, and he was to paint many of his most remarkable landscapes.
Soon after arriving at Éragny, Pissarro painted this View of Bazincourt, Clear Sky (1884). Its gnarled and twisted trees in the foreground appear in many of his subsequent paintings. This was bought from him by Durand-Ruel that summer, and quickly sold on to Mary Cassatt.
Even more familiar over the coming years was the fine spire of the Church and Manor-House at Éragny (1884). This painting too was sold that summer to Durand-Ruel and sold on quickly to Mary Cassatt.
In January 1885, when he was visiting Guillaumin in his studio, Pissarro met the young painter Paul Signac for the first time.
Tomorrow I’ll show a selection of Alfred Sisley’s landscapes from the same period.
Brettell RR (1990) Pissarro and Pontoise, Yale UP and Guild. ISBN 978 0 300 04336 5.
Pissarro J (1993) Pissarro, Pavilion Books and Harry N Abrams. ISBN 1 85793 124 6.
Pissarro J and Snollaerts CD-R (2005) Pissarro. Critical Catalogue of Paintings, 3 vols, Wildenstein Institute and Skira. ISBN 88 7624 525 1.
Rothkopf K ed (2006) Pissarro. Creating the Impressionist Landscape, Philip Wilson, London. ISBN 0 85667 630 6.