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


London Bucket List


When I went to London for the first time back in 2002, I had a Rough Guide map tucked into my backpack.  It turned out to be such a great map, it’s gone on every trip to London, including my 2011 sojourn.  Obviously, using a nine year old map isn’t always a good idea, but it’s never lead me astray, (when I get lost, it’s either operator error or I left my compass in my other jeans). Between a durable plastic coating and including most of the little streets, this is my all-time favorite map.

Aside from laying out the whole city, my Rough Guide map includes a list of 20 can’t miss sites of London.  To-do lists are irresistible, so every time I go to London I make it a point to check off at least one item from the London bucket list.

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1. The National Gallery

This museum holds treasures from the likes of Da Vinci, Van Gogh, and countless other legendary artists.  No matter how many times I walk through the doors, I am always in awe of the masterpieces hanging on the walls.  The first time I saw a real Van Gogh, I forgot how to breathe. The best part is, the whole experience is free, (though donations are greatly appreciated).

2. London Eye

The tallest ferris wheel in the world is definitely worth the price of the ticket and long line.   The views of London are truly spectacular and it moves slowly enough to allow enough time to fully take in the vistas along the Thames. Some of my most beautiful memories of London come from my ride on the London Eye as I was lucky enough to reach the apex at sunset.

3. Hampstead Heath

This is the first of yet-to-complete items on the list.  There are so many parks in London and I’m gradually making my way to each one.  If anything, Hampstead Heath  gives me a reason to return to London (as if I need one!).

4. Shopping in Covent Garden

There is so much to see and do in Covent Garden.  The shopping is a little out of my league, but it’s fun to look in the windows.  However, my favorite part of Covent Garden are the street performers that populate the center court and side streets.  In the course of an afternoon, there’s everything from music, magic shows, mimes, human statues, and artists.  All I need is a cup of coffee and few quid to toss and I’m all set for a good bit of fun.

5. Royal Court

This is the second yet-to-complete item on the list.  I walk by the theater district on every visit, but I have yet to step foot in a theater.  I travel on pinched penny, so the choice to pass on taking in a play is usually made for financial reasons.  One of these days, I will go and savor the thrill of London’s famed theater tradition.

6. No. 11 Bus

How about bus #43?  On my last trip, I took a double-decker bus from London Bridge all the way to Muswell Hill Broadway.  It took about an hour, but I saw everything from famed sites to little neighborhoods where tourists seldom go.  My tired feet got a rest, the rain couldn’t get me, and I saw the city from a completely different perspective.  Not bad for the price of a bus fare!

7. St. Paul’s

After a while, all churches in Europe start to look the same, but St. Paul’s really does stand out as a uniquely beautiful piece of architecture.  It’s not free or cheap to go inside, but its worth the price to stand beneath distinctive dome.  My jaw literally dropped and stayed that way for much longer than what would be considered polite.  After the dome, take some time to admire the marble floors and columns and then climb up the second floor to see the knave from on high.  The crypt down below is also worth a look, for nothing else but the chance to say, “I crept through a crypt.”

8. Walk Along the South Bank

This is one of my favorite things to do in London.  Not only is the view amazing, but the South Bank is full of vendors, museums, shopping, parks, and kiosks.  While a bustling place filled with people, it is also a place to relax and soak in the atmosphere.  On my last trip, I strolled down the embankment at least half a dozen times. If you go, be sure to listen for the sound of the Thames lapping the shore.

9. Houses of Parliament

From the outside, Parliament is a pretty impressive building.  The gothic spires and arches serve as a symbol of London and house the government machine that runs England.  The real action, however, happens on the inside with spirited debates and the pageantry of tradition.  On selected days, Parliament is open to the public and it’s totally free!  I sat in what felt like box seats and watched representatives debate rather hotly about energy regulations in the U.K.  It sounds like a boring subject, but the Brits keep it lively with witty banter.

10. Somerset House

On three previous trips, I saw Sommerset House from a distance, but never got the chance to venture close enough to see what all the fuss was about.  This summer, I finally walked into the courtyard and was instantly awestruck.  The central court is enormous and surrounded on three sides by the beautiful white facade of the house.  In the middle is a large set of ground fountains that come alive at different intervals.

11 -20 are after the jump . . .

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Wandering in London, Part 3


I’ve been busy  . . .

June 15, 2011

Today I was feeling all historical again, so I went to Fleet Street where the history of London peeks from every corner.  Fleet Street was once London’s center for journalism, banking, and a number of pubs, but today its a busy street filled with lawyers, bankers, and tourists.  The highlights for me were the memorial of Temple Bar, Number 1 Fleet Street (Dickens used this bank as the model for Tellsons’s in A Tale of Two Cities), Prince Henry’s room (from the 17th century and its still there!), Hoare’s Bank, and Mitre Tavern.  In addition, it was really interesting to see how Londoners hold onto the past even thought the present keeps pushing towards the future.  Old signs and storefronts remain in place even when something new takes over.  For example, there might be a deli or a salon inhabiting a building but the sign for a newspaper from bygone days remains firmly in place.

Off the main road there was just as much to explore.  On one of those sidetreets, Fetter Lane, I got one of my favorite pictures so far:

During my first trip to London, the tour guide (back when I went with tours instead of on my own) took the group to a church that still bore the damage from the German blitz during WWII. My pictures from that trip did not turn out well and I’ve always wanted another chance.  During my next two trips I searched for this church, but never found it.  This time, however, a little bit of wandering and an extra dose of luck brought me back to St. Clement Danes.  Not only do I have some great pictures to add to my lessons on WWII for my students, but I gained even more respect for a city that wears its wounds with pride and reverence.

Before I left for London I read a blog that outlined the five best places to write in London and she had mentioned the Royal Festival Hall.  I was close enough to that very spot, so I headed towards The Strand and then crossed the Thames at Waterloo Bridge. According to the blog, the fourth floor was a good spot and she was right!  Large windows offered a great view of the river and despite the number of people occupying the other tables it was remarkably quiet.  I started a new short story and simply enjoyed the ambience of creativity.  Just to shake things up I went exploring and found another great spot on the 5th floor, the Balcony Terrace.  Not only do you get a great view of London, but you can also hear the goings on down on the embankment.  More detailed posts on the South Bank are forthcoming.  There are a number of reasons why I keep walking along that side of the river, so stay tuned!

June 16, 2011

With rain threatening and me on my last pair of dry shoes, I opted to stay indoors and do another museum day.  The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square seemed like the perfect way to spend the day . . . and it was!  I visited just about every exhibition hall, but I naturally hovered over my favorite artists.  I sat and admired Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin on the Rocks and then learned all about Britain’s most famous painters including J.M.W. Turner.  From there I bumped into Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Peter Paul Rubens.  My heart, however, belongs to the Impressionists, so the bulk of the day was given to Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, and Pissarro.  Each of their works inspired a number of ideas for characters I hope will populate a story or two in the future.  In particular, Pissarro spoke the loudest with his painting The Boulevard Montmarte at Night.

After the museum, I wandered through the side streets around Trafalgar and eventually ended up at huge bookstore, Waterstones.  I don’t know why, but I always manage to find a bookstore wherever I go.  And no matter how much I try to resist, I always have to go inside!  This is probably the third or fourth Waterstones I’ve been through already, but in this particular store I noticed their catch phrase.  As a burgeoning writer, I found it to be a fantastic source of inspiration . . .  “Feel Every Word.”

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