Camille Pissarro: Father of Impressionism
By Melissa Montgomery
Avenue de L’ Opera Paris
Camille Pissarro was born in the coastal town of Charlotte Amaelie on the island of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands in July of 1830. He was born of Jewish father and Spanish mother. His father ran a successful dry goods store that was located in a town that was directly on the trade route of merchant ships. The building that the family lived in still stands today and is called ‘The Pissarro Building’.
When Camille was twelve years old his parents sent him to boarding school in Paris, France. It was there the director of the school gave him some valuable advice; draw the beautiful plants from the place that he came from. When Pissarro returned to St. Thomas in 1847, he began to do just that. When his father would send him to the port to supervise and catalog the loading and unloading of goods off the ships, Pissarro would take his sketchpad and draw. For five years he diligently practiced drawing what was around him: ships, sailors, women doing their washing, tradesmen, coconut trees and the beautiful scenic surroundings. While spending time in the port, Pissarro met a fellow artist named Fritz Melbye. In 1853, tired of experiencing the endless friction with his business- minded father because of his artistic calling, Pissarro wrote his parents a quick note and ran away with Fritz to Caracas, Venezuela. Pissarro reveled in his new life there and under Fritz’ tutelage he produced many drawings and water colors. One year later his parents decided they would accept the fact their son was an artist, so Pissarro returned home to St. Thomas and then to Paris, France.
While in Paris, Pissarro was unimpressed by the popular artists of the day and turned his attention to those artists that were not necessarily popular. He met Monet and Cezanne and their network of friends. He was encouraged by their work and insight into the possibility of focusing on light in a painting instead of merely trying to recreate it. Pissarro’s parents joined him in Paris and Pissarro eventually met his wife through them. She was their maid and became Pissarro’s lifelong companion.
In 1874, Pissarro and Monet organized an exhibition of their friends work. It was an independent exhibition and it featured work by Renoir, Sisley, Béliard, Guillemin, Degas, Cézanne, and Berthe Morisot. The reviews were hardly stellar- critics criticized the work for not being literal enough and used the word “impressionist” to describe the paintings. It was intended to be negative- as if the artist was unable to accurately copy their subjects perfectly; therefore, they were only able to paint an “impression” of them.
Despite the lack of popularity if this group- they carried on undaunted, led by Pissarro and they continued to create.
Pissarro struggled to gain recognition his whole life and finally at age 74, he had achieved material and critical success. He was given a large retrospective of his work in 1892 and many of his paintings were sold at auctions for large amounts of money. His most well known paintings are, The Path through the Fields, Landscape, Eragny, and Avenue de L’ Opera Paris. Pissarro died in 1903 at home surrounded by his family.
Today, Camille Pissarro is known as the father of the Impressionist movement and his paintings are in museums all over the world.
Relevant link: http://www.pissarro.net/