It is not often that one gets the opportunity to clearly contemplate the watershed moment that marked the transition from the old to the new, from the before to the after, from what was to what will be.
But this miracle instant in artistic evolution is there for everyone to see at the Pissarro exhibition that opened at the Thyssen Museum in Madrid on Tuesday, where it will remain on display until September 15. After that, the show moves on to CaixaForum in Barcelona. The show is the first comprehensive exhibition devoted to the French Impressionist ever mounted in Spain.
Pissarro’s personal transition is encapsulated in the distance separating the 1867 painting The Banks of the Oise from the 1870 work Louveciennes. In between, the salient interpreter of the teachings of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet and Charles-François Daubigny becomes an early herald of the Impressionist revolution. His brush strokes break up, the light becomes spacious, and the colors expand into new dimensions.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) never abandoned his Impressionist creed. Nor did he turn his back on “the boys” – Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir, the fellow painters who were born a decade later and had very different personal backgrounds from himself. The son of a Portuguese-Jewish father and a Creole mother, Pissarro was born on the island of St Thomas, in the Danish West Indies (now the US Virgin Islands), and learned to paint in Paris and Venezuela before retiring to the country, where he led a quiet life until he was forced back to the city.
Pissarro was a father figure, an older brother and a friend to these and other painters such as Van Gogh. He was at once a master to and a student of Monet, who helped him see reality in a different way (witness Louveciennes), and Cézanne, whose geometric compositions found their way into Pissarro’s Le chemin d’Ennery (1874) – the only work here on loan from Paris’s Musée d’Orsay.
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