Pissarro was a French Impressionist
painter. His importance resides not only in his visual contributions to
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, but also in his patriarchal
standing among his colleagues, particularly Paul Cézanne and
Paul Gauguin. Born July 10, 1830 in St.
Thomas, Virgin Islands. to Abraham Gabriel Pissarro, and Rachel
Manzano-Pomié, who was from the Dominican Republic. Camille Pissarro
lived in St. Thomas until age 12, when he was sent to Paris to study. As
a boy, Camille Pissarro earned acclaim for his budding talent as an
artist. Pissarro returned to St. Thomas where he drew in his free time.
In 1852, Camille Pissarro traveled to Venezuela with the Danish artist Fritz Melbye, but was obligated to return to St. Thomas in 1847 to help his father run his general store. In 1855, Camille Pissarro had convinced his parents to allow him to pursue his dream of becoming a painter settling in France. He arrived in time to see the great World's Fair which included a large art section. Following the advice of Corot, whose landscapes he had admired at the fair, Pissarro was soon painting and sketching in small towns and villages near Paris, along the Seine, Oise and Marne rivers. Camille Pissarro studied at the Académie Suisse and formed friendships with Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and other future members of the Impressionist group. By the late 1860s, his powerful realist landscapes, like "View from Louveciennes" (shown) were praised by the prominent critic Emile Zola. This landscape is one of the finest extant examples of Pissarro's earlier work. It was probably painted in the spring of 1870. The previous year Pissarro had moved from Pontoise to Louveciennes, a village a few miles west of Paris, where fellow Impressionists Renoir, Monet and Sisley were then active. Louveciennes overlooks the Seine and is close to the Forest and Park of Marly-le-Roi.
During the Franco-Prussian War, Camille Pissarro left France for London with his friend Claude Monet. There, they were influenced by the landscape paintings of John Constable and J.M.W. Turner in developing a unique style that would later be known as Impressionism. Upon returning to his home near Paris, Pissarro discovered that the Prussians had destroyed nearly all of his paintings, only 40 of his 1500 paintings, remained undamaged. In the summer of 1871 Camille Pissarro settled in Pontoise where he was to remain for the next ten years, gathering a close circle of friends around him. Cézanne repeatedly came to stay with Camille Pissarro and under his influence learned to study nature more patiently. These were also the years of the first Impressionist group exhibitions which were initiated by Monet, but in which Camille Pissarro was to play a major role and which earned him much criticism for his art.
While mainly interested in landscape, Camille Pissarro liked to introduce people (generally peasants going about their rural occupations) and animals into these and they often became the focal point of the composition. It was this unsentimental and unliterary approach, and the complete absence of any pretence, that seemed to stop his work from finding appreciation with the general public.
By 1873 Camille Pissarro and his Impressionist colleagues finally abandoned the Salon altogether, a move which gave birth to the first of the Impressionist exhibitions. The first of these independent shows was held in 1874 and included Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Edgar Degas, and Berthe Morisot. Pissarro was the only painter of the Impressionist group who participated in all eight of the ground-breaking Impressionist exhibitions held in Paris between 1874 and 1886. Camille Pissarro acted as the principal organizer of the first exhibition, which opened in the photographer Nadar’s studio in April 1874. It was also Pissarro who drafted the first convention incorporating the group then calling themselves the ‘Société Anonyme des Artistes’. Consequently, Pissarro was regarded as the central figure of the group. Moreover, whereas Monet was the most prolific and emblematic practitioner of the Impressionist style, Pissarro was nonetheless a primary developer of Impressionist technique.
Camille Pissarro was seen as the patriarch of the Impressionist movement, and was constantly encouraging younger artists and managing the artistic revolution’s progress. In 1892, he finally received the international recognition he deserved with a large-scale retrospective of his work. His mature work displays an empathy for peasants and laborers, and sometimes evidences his radical political leanings. In common with many artists and writers of his day, he became a fervent anarchist. Camille Pissarro produced a powerful attack on French bourgeois society in his album of anarchist drawings, Turpitudes Sociales, 1889.
Pissarro experimented with Neo-Impressionist ideas between 1885 and 1890. In 1885, Camille Pissarro met Paul Signac and Georges Seurat and for the next five years adopted their Pointillist style. Discontented with what he referred to as "romantic Impressionism," he investigated Pointillism which he called "scientific Impressionism" before returning to a purer Impressionism in the last decade of his life.
In the last years of his life Camille Pissarro divided his time between Paris, Rouen, Le Havre and his home in Eragny and painted several series of different aspects of the cities with varying light and weather effects, while expressing the dynamism of the modern city. Many of these paintings are considered amongst his best and make a fitting finale to his long and eventful career. Always searching for new means of expression, Pissarro was one of the most innovative of the Impressionists. A self-effacing, kindly man, Camille Pissarro experienced chronic problems selling his paintings and supporting his family. (He had eight children, three of whom died). But Camille Pissarro never gave up, pursuing his principles doggedly, insisting on his freedom to experiment in order to create afresh.