Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro was a Danish-French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter. His importance resides in his contributions to both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. He studied from great forerunners, including Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and later studied and worked alongside Georges Seurat and Paul Signac when he took on the Neo-Impressionist style at the age of 54. He was the only artist to have shown his work at all eight Paris Impressionist exhibitions, from 1874 to 1886.

Camille Pissarro was born on the island of St. Thomas. His father was of Portuguese Jewish descent, held French nationality and his mother was native Creole. At age of twelve he was sent to boarding school in France. While a young student, he developed an early appreciation of the French art masters. However, his father preferred he work in his business. Aged 21 and influenced by Danish artist Fritz Melbye, Pissarro left his family and job to live in Venezuela, where he spent the next two years.

In 1855 he moved back to Paris and worked as assistant to Danish painter Anton Melbye, Fritz's brother. He also enrolled in various classes taught by masters, at schools such as École des Beaux-Arts and Académie Suisse. His initial paintings were in accord with the standards at the time in order to be displayed at the Paris Salon. In 1859 his first painting was accepted and exhibited. He began to paint scenes in the countryside to capture the daily reality of village life. As a result, his art was sometimes criticized as being “vulgar,” because he painted what he saw. Pissarro became friends with a number of younger artists who likewise chose to paint in the more realistic style. Among them were Claude Monet, Armand Guillaumin and Paul Cézanne. In 1863 almost all of the group’s paintings were rejected by the Salon, and French Emperor Napoleon III instead decided to place their paintings in a separate exhibit hall, the Salon des Refusés.

At the age of thirty-eight, Pissarro had begun to win himself a reputation as a landscapist. In 1871 he married his mother’s maid, Julie Vellay, with whom he would later have seven children. After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, he moved to England. Durand-Ruel, an art dealer who helped sell his art for most of his life, put him in touch with Monet who was likewise in London during this period. Pissarro’s paintings also began to take on a more spontaneous look, with loosely blended brushstrokes and areas of impasto, giving more depth to the work.

When Pissarro returned in France after the war, he discovered that of the 1,500 paintings, only 40 remained. The rest had been damaged or destroyed by the soldiers. He soon reestablished his friendships with the other Impressionist artists and expressed his opinion to the group that he wanted an alternative to the Salon so their group could display their own unique styles. To assist in that endeavor, in 1873 he helped establish a separate collective, called the "Société Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs et Graveurs," which included fifteen artists. He became the “pivotal” figure in establishing and holding the group together. In 1874, the group held their first 'Impressionist' Exhibition, which shocked and “horrified” the critics.

By the 1880s, Pissarro began to explore new themes and methods of painting in order to break out of what he felt was an artistic “mire”. As a result, he went back to his earlier themes by painting the life of country people, which he had done in Venezuela in his youth. However, this period also marked the end of the Impressionist period due to Pissarro’s leaving the movement. In 1885 he met Georges Seurat and Paul Signac and Pissarro then spent the years from 1885 to 1888 practicing this other technic known as pointillism.

In his older age Pissarro suffered from a recurring eye infection that prevented him from working outdoors. As a result of this disability, he began painting outdoor scenes while sitting by the window of hotel rooms. Pissarro died in Paris on 13 November 1903 and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

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