Pissarro - The First Impressionist

The first Impressionist
Art Gallery of New South Wales
19 November 05 – 19 February 06

The exhibition ‘Pissarro, the first of the Impressionists’, was superb in the way it was laid out, from his early work through to his much later work. It showed us his transition from student, to peer and from peer to master and mentor. Pissarro was unique in that he practiced art from Romantism & Realism through to Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism and Post Impressionism. Pissarro’s work progressed through all of these stages and it is evident how much he was influenced by the other artists of the time. It also must be noted that Pissarro influenced and encouraged many well known artists including Monet to Matisse, with his work being instrumental in the development of Cubism.
His early works show that he used a traditional palette using many browns and blacks, all blended together to form separate shades and usually applied with a palette knife. This kind of work, I feel, is fairly staid and tired. Road to Port-Marly c.1860-67 was my favourite piece in this section as it projects a feeling of serenity and calm due to the depiction of shadow and light falling through the trees. The canvas was composed of a darker diagonal area with highlights of colour and light in the opposite diagonal, offsetting this darker area. A splash of red on the roof balanced the green of the trees and the blue of the sky almost balanced his use of browns. Through the influence of Corot Pissarro was already taking advantage of natural light and the outdoor settings.
In 1870 -71 France was in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War and Pissarro was just one of the artists who fled to safety in London. It is during this period where his work began to develop into something more exciting. He started using less browns and blacks, and his paintings became much lighter. Pissarro starts to use the atmosphere and is able to capture fog and even a bright sunny day on his canvas. It is not until later when his palette becomes much richer in colour that I found his work more to my liking.
In the Late Impressionism room we see that Pissarro has really embraced the techniques known to us today as Impressionism. The uses of complimentary opposite colours that provide vibration as well as shadow explode onto his canvases. Also quite obvious are the influences of other contemporary artists on his work. Resting beneath the trees, Pontiose 1878, almost pays homage to Renoir. Pissarro captures brilliantly the dappled light and the atmosphere of everyday people taking respite on a warm sunny day. This painting is composed so that your eye follows the path into the painting stopping along the way to take in the figures in the foreground and then the one in the distance. In this room you can see his techniques evolving as he embraces the styles of other artists such as Bonard. In the painting Women washing the dishes 1882, Pissarro has even flattened the background which is where the journey into abstraction really begins.
Neo-Impressionism is a movement that Pissarro also embraced. He very successfully accomplished the technique which took the definition of impressionism to its most scientific and controlled degree. His success of this technique is more than apparent in the very laborious L’Ile Lacroix, Rouen (effect of fog), 1888 below, the way that Pissarro can paint in white is quite amazing.

Pissarro however did not stay with this technique as he found it to be to mechanical and lacking in spontaneity, which leads us directly into City Views & Industrial Landscapes.

Pissarro takes a busy and newly industrialized landscape and celebrates all its activity, spontaneity and personality onto the canvas. He experiments with perspective and illustrates the moving form in loose strokes so successfully that the impression given is not a static view but one that is almost bursting from its frame.

By the time Pissarro had finished his career he had taken part in one of the most exciting movements in the art world, was successful in contributing ground breaking works of art, and was a great supporter to other artists of the movement, leaving behind a legacy which would continue to inspire the cubists and expressionist of the future. The one thing that stands out to me is his openness to try something different and never be afraid to adopt the techniques of others. He never confined himself to one style and I’m sure that his attitude to his art became a catalyst for the things that were to follow in the future.


Pissarro - The First Impressionist

Marilyn Brown

Joined May 2007

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The first Impressionist
Art Gallery of New South Wales

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