Pondering Pissarro


With the same fervor as Monet and Van Gogh, Camille Pissarro has captured my imagination with his unique style and perspective.  He is well known for making significant contributions to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism as he influenced the likes of Renoir, Cézanne, and Van Gogh. While his accomplishments are monumental, I find myself drawn to his work because of his emphasis on finding beauty in unexpected places.  His focus on simple subjects, rather than ornate is refreshing and asks the viewer to look beyond the obvious.

Self-Portrait (1903), Camille Pissarro

In the National Gallery of London, I was mesmerized by a Pissarro painting, (The Côte des Bœufs at L’Hermitage, 1877), not only due to its sheer beauty, but the epiphany it brought.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to Impressionist painters, but I never fully understood why they effected me so deeply.  Monet and Van Gogh always conjure an emotional bubble that often translates into inexplicable tears, while Renoir and Degas soothe the edges of my soul with their graceful images.

While sitting on a bench at the National Gallery and soaking in Pissarro’s brush strokes, I started to ask myself why Impressionism speaks to me with so much force. At first, I mused how Impressionist paintings seem to depict what the world looks like through the rain – my favorite kind of weather.  Whether it be a field of flowers through a water-streamed window or the streets of Paris caught in a downpour, the scene is blurred and refracted.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was just a small part of the puzzle.  I strolled through the Impressionist wing of the museum, absorbing the likes of Monet, Renoir, and Seurat, until the answer slowly started to materialize.

These “blurry” paintings allow for imagination.  Mood and atmosphere are created by the artist, but the individual viewer gets to decide the story and the minute details.  Prior to Impressionism, the goal was to create as much realism as possible. The artist strived to portray everything with immaculate detail and gave the viewer little to do but look.  While amazing accomplishments, (and really quite beautiful) there is no room to wonder.  My creative spirit needs to play with the images I see and fill in the blanks.

Pissarro is often viewed as a father figure to Impressionism, so it seems fitting that one of  his paintings should lead to a new understanding of my admiration for the genre.  Below, I’ve put together a small slideshow that includes some of my favorite Pissarro paintings, including the painting that triggered my epiphany.

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Impressionists gave tradition a total make-over.  Free will became part of each painting with as much emphasis as color and subject matter.  The combination is intoxicating and explains why I lose myself so easily in the blurred edges of reality.

What kind of art speaks to you and why?

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All images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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c.b. 2012


21 thoughts on “Pondering Pissarro

  1. All of these are quite lovely. Apart from Georgia O’Keefe, I have a favourite artist: Eduoard Cortez. Why?! I guess they just speaks to me …in the latter case, it’s something about how he’s managed to capture the light. The soft brush strokes of Georgia O’Keefe just speaks volumes to me … and the colours.


    • I’ll definitely be checking out more of his work. 🙂 Thanks for sharing the link.

      Georgia O’Keefe is fantastic! I first saw one of her paintings in person a couple of years ago and it was very striking.


  2. I’m afraid I haven’t studied enough art to know one from the other which is why I’m enjoying your insights so very much. It’s funny as I looked at the slide show I was drawn to the same one that brought on your epiphany . . . without realizing they were the same. I want to go exploring.


    • I was once intimidated by my lack of art knowledge, but then I realized it isn’t how much you know about art but rather how it effects you. Everything I write about is art doesn’t come from a textbook or online sources, it comes from my own personal experience with a painting. 🙂

      Have fun exploring. 🙂


  3. So calming and lush. I have always loved the impressionists for their individualism, and have always likened their train of thought to the existentialist writers of the time as well. Thank you for this fantastic mini-lesson!

    As for kind of art, honestly…my tastes run the gamut. Most recently the work of Whistler has softened me quite a bit, and I’ve always loved Asian art as well. I had never thought of Whistler much until I went to the Freer at the Smithsonian, and then I was in love (the Freer is mainly Whistler paintings and Asian art – a perfect blend of my tastes!!). There’s also the famous Peacock Room – it’s almost as though it was made just for me!


  4. If you want a good read on the life and struggles of Pissarro, I recommend “Depths of Glory” by Irving Stone. He also wrote “Lust for Life” about Van Gogh and “Agony and the Ecstasy” about Michaelanglo. They read like fiction, historical or biographical fiction. Stone captures the passion, the emotion, the drive of the artists and the influences of the time they lived. Nice paintings!


  5. Jen

    What an interesting way to connect your love of (Impressionist) art and your creative and writing life. Very nice – and the slide show was a fun addition.

    The Woods are Marly is lovely – as if your favorite The Côte des Bœufs at L’Hermitage. I had never seen either, so thank you for sharing!


    • Art (in various forms) and writing have always gone together for me. For some reason I’m always inspired by what I see, no matter how big or small. 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed those paintings! 🙂


  6. Wow. What a realization! And so clearly explained. I love epiphanies!! I can totally understand what you are saying about the blurred lines and your interpretation vs. the realists where all the viewer is invited to do is look. I took one art humanities class at NAU as an elective. I recognize a lot of the names, but couldn’t put them in a category to save my life! I don’t have a favorite. I think I like either complete abstract, like Pollak and his drip paintings, bizarre stuff like Warhol’s, or those small, very detailed paintings from long ago that depict tavern scenes. I like Western art that shows the cowboy and Native American way of life, but only certain ones. Thanks for inviting me to think about this 🙂


    • I didn’t know you had a little background in art . . . very cool! 🙂

      I got to see a Jackson Pollack painting at the Tate Modern and it was incredible. Photographs definitely don’t do his work justice . . . there’s something very powerful about those splatters and drips when you’re standing in front of them. 🙂


  7. I don’t know artists and their work very well, so I loved the slide show you presented so I could distinguish his work from similar paintings I have seen in the past. I especially liked The Woods at Marly. It reminded me of the path my daughter walked through on her way to the altar on her wedding day. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing you knowledge and your epiphany. 🙂


  8. You included one of my favorites, the Boulevard Montmartre. Your idea, that you have to become part of the narrative in paintings by the Impressionists, resonates with me. I love that the story in the painting is always changing ( just like life) depending on the time of day and the light, and depending on the mood I’m in and what I need to see. The other thing that happens is that I am sucked into the scene as though a time machine picks me up and drops me at the time and place of the painting. I can see the gas lamps flickering, feel the night air , gaze wonderously at that brilliant sky, hear the passing of the automobiles, as though I was there. The paintings leave room for me to be in them. Who says time travel isn’t possible?!?


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