Movement, Style, Type or School of Art:
Date and Place of Birth:
July 10, 1830; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Danish Virgin Islands
Camille Pissarro was the Impressionists' father figure. A decade or so older than most members of the movement, Pissarro contributed to all eight Impressionist exhibitions (from 1874 to 1886) and brought into the group three of its biggest stars: Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), and Georges Seurat (1859-1891).
Officially Jacob-Abraham-Camille Pissarro, he was the third of four children born to Abraham [called Frédéric] Gabriel Pissarro, a Portuguese Sephardic-Jewish from Bordeaux and Rachel Manzano-Pomié Petit, a Dominican of Spanish descent. His mother was also his great aunt by marriage. His father married his uncle's widow after he had been sent by the family to sort out the estate in 1829.
Their union was considered 'illegitimate' by this small tight-knit Jewish community, which finally recognized the marriage in 1833. Pissarro grew up as an outsider to these St. Thomas outsiders, and attended a Protestant elementary school as a result.
In 1842, he was sent to boarding school in Paris. There he discovered his love of art. He returned to St. Thomas at 17 to enter the family business. But he never developed an interest in the work. He continued to sketch and paint.
In 1852, Pissarro took off for Caracas, Venezuela with fellow Danish artist Fritz Mebye. They sketched the landscape and inhabitants. Three years later, Pissarro moved to Paris. His family settled there by 1860.
Once in Paris, Pissarro studied informally with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1874). He also attended the Académie Suisse, where he met Claude Monet (1840-1926). Monet later joined Charles Gleyre's studio (1806-1874), where he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) and Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), and introduced these friends to Pissarro.
During this period Pissarro fell in love with Julie Vellay, a maid in his parents' household. The liaison scandalized his parents, who disapproved of Julie's social class and religion. Camille and Julie lived as common-law spouses in the 1860s and married in London in 1871. They had eight children (one died at birth and one died at nine years old).
The Pissarros and Monets lived in London during the Franco-Prussian War (July 1870-May 1871). Pissarro's status as a Danish citizen protected him from conscription. Several of his French friends enlisted. Bazille was killed during his first skirmish.
Back in France and fed up with the official art system, Pissarro and his friends decided to produce their own independent exhibition. They called themselves the Anonymous Society of Painter, Sculptors, Engravers, etc., and opened their show at the same time as the Salon during the spring 1874. This group became known as the Impressionists.
Pissarro worried about modern social injustice and embraced anarchism, a political philosophy that preached freedom from official government rule. Indications of his social consciousness appear in his lush suburban landscapes, where factory smokestacks belch their soot in the distance. In his bird's-eye view cityscapes, urban congestion mingles with the bustling crowd.
From 1885 through 1890, Pissarro adopted Pointillism (a.k.a. Divisionisim or Neo-Impressionism), developed by the much younger Georges Seurat. His sales dipped as well as his rate of production. The family suffered considerably.
Once Pissarro threw off the shackles of this labor-intensive direction, his natural verve reignited and his production soared. So did his prices. By the end of 1890s, the family enjoyed a comfortable income that lasted until Pissarro's death in 1903.
During his last decade, Pissarro was plagued by two debilitating conditions: his reoccurring eye infection, which curtailed his plein-air painting, and unpleasant anti-Semitic comments instigated by the Dreyfus Affair in 1894. (Pissarro's long, shaggy beard made him look like a rabbi). In addition, Degas, an anti-Dreyfusard, broke off their relationship.
Pissarro's legacy continues through his offspring. Several Pissarro children and grandchildren became artists or arts professionals. Today, the artist Lélia Pissarro lives in London with husband David Stern who oversees the Stern Pissarro Gallery, dedicated to the family dynasty. Joachim Pissarro is an art history professor at Hunter College in New York. While head curator of Drawing and Painting at the Museum of Modern Art, he organized Pioneering Modern Painting: Pissarro and Cézanne in 2005.
- Jallais Hill, Pontoise, 1867
- The Seine at la Grenouillère, ca. 1869
- The Oise in Spate, 1873
- Factory, Near Pontoise, 1873
- Red Roofs, or The Orchard, Côtes St. Denis at Pontoise, 1877
- Young Peasant Girl with Sheep (The Shepherdess), 1881
- Young Peasant Girl Drinking Coffee, 1881
- Avenue de 'Opéra, A Sunny Winter Morning, 1898
Date and Place of Death:
November 12, 1903; Eragny-sur-Ept, France
Sources and Further Reading:
Karen Levitov and Richard Shiff, Camille Pissarro: The City and Country.
New York: The Jewish Museum/Yale University Press, 2007.
Pissarro, Joachim. Pioneering Modern Painting: Pissarro and Cézanne.
New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2007.
Camille Pissarro Letters to His Son, Lucien, edited by John Rewald, translated by Lionel Abel
Boston: MFA Publications, 2002.
Brettell, Richard. The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro's Series Painting.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
Pissarro, Joachim. Camille Pissarro.
New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993.