Who Was Camille Pissarro?

Camille Pissarro was one of the founders of impressionist painting. As a young man, he helped shape the Impressionist movement with friends including Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. He was also active in Post-Impressionist circles, painting until his death in Paris on November 13, 1903.

Early Life of Camille Pissarro

Jacob-Abraham-Camille Pissarro was born on July 10, 1830, on the island of St. Thomas, Danish West Indies. Pissarro’s father was French citizen of Portuguese Jewish descent, who traveled to the island to help settle his late uncle's estate and wound up marrying his uncle's widow, Rebecca Pomié Petit. The marriage was controversial and not immediately recognized by a small Jewish community where they lived. As a result, the Pissarro children grew up as outsiders during their childhood.
At the age of 12, he was sent by his parents to a boarding school in France. There, he developed an early appreciation of the French art masters. After completing his education, he returned to St. Thomas and although he initially became involved in his family's mercantile business, he never stopped drawing and painting in his spare time.

Early Training of Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro was born in the city of Louvain, Belgium on July 10, 1830. The eldest son of a wealthy Jewish dry goods merchant, Camille's father named him after his friend the French painter Eugène Delacroix. The family split its time between Paris and the country, where Camille learned to draw and paint. He was particularly talented at drawing, sketching images from nature to use as references for his later paintings. Camille Pissarro's early training included copying other artists' works in museums and private collections. This method of learning art is no longer used; many artists today go to art schools or subscribe to art magazines that provide them with photos of other artists' work. Using other artists' work as study material is no longer considered appropriate for developing an artist's individual style. At the time, however, it was considered good practice for an artist to learn by copying the masters before attempting original compositions.

Pissarro's style and influence

Pissarro is not as well-known as some of his contemporaries, such as Monet and Renoir, but he is considered by many experts to be equally talented. A major exhibition of Pissarro's work was held at the Tate Gallery in London in 2002, and another is planned at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Reeder's book tells Pissarro's life story and analyzes his paintings. She also presents a view of Impressionism that was not widely accepted before: she argues that Impressionism was an art movement among others, not the first step toward modern art. This view is controversial because it implies that it is impossible to be a good painter without understanding Impressionism. Reeder therefore spends most of her book discussing Pissarro's style and influence. The Impressionists were a loose and informal group; the only thing they all had in common was that they wanted to show how directly they could capture the world on canvas. But when Pissarro painted, he did not look at nature directly. He painted what he saw in his mind's eye, and then adjusted what he had painted until it was like what he had seen. The results often looked different from the results of other painters. If you look at an Impressionist painting and think, "That's how it looked," you're probably looking at a painting by someone else.

Camille's Later Years

Camille Pissarro lived to be ninety-one. He was an active and productive artist until the end of his life. He died in 1903, a few years after Monet. In Camille's later years his style changed more than it had in the previous fifty years. His earlier paintings were mostly of landscapes, but from about 1890 on he did mostly seascapes and cityscapes. In the early 1890s Camille left France for a couple of years, spending time in England and then in Norfolk, England, where he painted many works inspired by the Norfolk landscape. He returned to France in 1894. In his later years Camille often visited Monet at Giverny and painted there, too. He is often called a Post Impressionist because of this visit and some of the paintings he did there. Camille's career as a painter lasted longer than any other major painter's with the exception of Rembrandt and Rubens.

Death of Camille

In December 1903, Pissarro was in bed with a fever when he began to cough up blood. He was taken to a Paris hospital, where he died on April 13. Pissarro had been a thorn in the side of the establishment since the days of the Impressionists. Though his work commanded high prices and was shown in some of the most prestigious galleries, he continued to live simply and refused to bow to public opinion even when it seemed likely to influence his career. A generation later, however, Pissarro's work would be recognized as among the finest of his time. The Salon des Independants would award him its Grand Prize, and he would be given France's highest honor for an artist membership in the Legion of Honor. When he died, Pissarro left behind not only an impressive body of work but also a will that included this request: "I wish that my ashes be deposited in Pontoise Cemetery near those of Claude Monet." Pissarro was one of the first Impressionists. That group has always been more famous for its ideas than its paintings. The Impressionists' most important idea was that paintings should be done quickly, so that they captured the effect of light on objects. But the effect only lasts while the sunlight does; when the sun goes down, there's nothing to see anymore. The Impressionists learned to paint fast by doing their own painting and also by looking at each others' canvases while they were still wet. They could then see what needed correcting before the light changed and it was too late to do anything about it. That way they got faster at painting, but more important, they got better at capturing effects of light on things. And they also had a lot of fun getting together to do this kind of painting every afternoon.

Camille Pissarro's legacy

Camille Pissarro was one of the fathers of Impressionism, alongside Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley. Today his name is not widely known. But he was hugely influential, not just in France but around the world. If you've ever seen an impressionistic painting, it's likely because of him. If you want to understand Impressionism, it helps to look at his style when he was young, in the 1850s. The paintings then were less famous than they are now, but he sold almost all he showed. This was unusual for avant-garde painters; even the most famous Impressionists usually did not sell much work during their lifetimes. But Pissarro did well selling landscapes to art dealers. The success of his landscapes did not go over well with all of his fellow artists, however. Some thought his landscapes went too far in following impressionistic principles. And others felt that even if the painting style was impressionist, the subject matter was not. His landscapes were too realistic, they felt; too much like ordinary views rather than flights of fancy or dreams of exotic lands.

Oil painting reproduction of Camille Pissarro