"The Hermitage at Pontoise" - 1867 - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Thannhauser Collection
DEBUSSY - Ballade (1891)

Camille Pissarro was born in Saint-Thomas, Virgin Islands, on July 10, 1830 to a Jewish French father (Abraham) of Portuguese origin, who had settled in this Danish colony of the West Indies a few years earlier, and to a creole mother named Rachel Manzano-Pomie native of Danish Antilles.

His father sent him to Paris, France from 1842 to 1847 to receive his early education at a boarding school in Passy, a small village near Paris. As early as that time, he spends his free time sketching the countryside and visiting Parisian museums.

On return to Saint-Thomas, he forms a friendship with Danish painter Fritz Melbye, with whom he flees in 1852 to Caracas , Venezuela where he will stay two years, so as to avoid working in his father's business.

In 1855 his father ends up yielding to his will to become a painter and sends him again to Paris, where the French branch of his family was going to give him financial support, in order to have him follow a more serious training.



Musée d'Orsay, Paris


Pissarro will not follow a regular formation there, but instead will work at the "Swiss Academy". This prestigious Parisian workshop ( founded in 1815 and led since 1844 by Swiss painter Charles Gleyre ) provided young artists with models. The Swiss Academy did not offer courses, but made it possible for young painters to study together nudes, the price of a model being too high for a sole artist.

This academy was an important gathering place for those artists whose ambitions and sensibilities lay outside the teaching of the official schools, for it offered greater opportunity to discuss and develop personal ideas about painting and art in general. It is there that he will meet Monet in 1859, Guillaumin and Cézanne in 1861.

Banks of Marne River at Chennevières
National Gallery of Scotland


At that time, he paints in the surroundings of Paris on the edges of the Seine, Oise and Marne rivers, his work being inspired particularly by the style of Corot, whose works he had admired during the World Fair of 1855, and with whom he gets in contact. It is from there that his vocation as a landscape painter was born.

In 1859, he sent his first work to the official Salon and was admitted to expose there. In 1860, he lives with Julie Vellay, the daughter of a Burgundian wine grower, of whom he will have eight children .

In 1866, Pissarro and his family settled in Pontoise, then in Louveciennes in 1869, always keeping an apartment in Paris from where he could go to the Café Guerbois. It is there that he met Manet in 1866.



Except for 1867, he was regularly accepted to the Salon, but these admissions did not bring him many sales, so that he will have during many years financial problems to support his large family .

At this time, his greater experience compared to that of Monet, Renoir and Sisley, confers his paintings a greater maturity. He uses color modulations to suggest space depth while keeping a great rigour in composition. These qualities which one also finds in the works of his pupil Cézanne make of Pissarro a painter much more considered today that he was in the past.

In Pontoise, he works with Guillaumin, while frequently visiting Doctor Gachet in Auvers-on-Oise.


Jallais Coast, Pontoise
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

During the franco-prussian war of 1870, Pissarro, of Danish nationality, after a short stay in Brittany, will seek refuge in London at Monet's side . He will leave behind him in Louveciennes all his paintings, as well as those which Monet had left him in deposit. Those will be used by Prussians as boards to carve the meat and for the majority of them will be destroyed. On the edges of the Thames river, Pissarro will discover the work of John Constable, Joseph M.W. Turner and Richard Bonington.

After the war, he settles again in Pontoise, where he will remain the next ten years.


Hoar frost
Musée d'Orsay, Paris


An important moment in painting history is the collaboration between Pissarro and Cézanne from spring 1872 until the end of May 1874.

They knew each other since more than a decade, and Pissarro welcomes Cézanne who comes to work with him. This latter settles with his family, initially in Pontoise, then in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1873 in a housing provided by Dr. Gachet.

Their joint work will appear particularly fertile for both of them. Cézanne will adopt the manner of Impressionist painting while he strengthens Pissarro in his desire to carry out compositions built with an autonomous picturality .



1874 was the year of the first private Impressionist exhibition. Pissarro, senior of the Impressionists, will take part in the eight shows of the group.

This fact is important because it reveals something about Pissarro's relation to Impressionism generally : he was the patriarch and teacher of the movement, constantly advising younger artists, introducing them to one another, and encouraging them to join the revolutionary trend that he helped to originate.


Art critics will recognize the talent of Pissarro only at the end of the 1870s. He will answer waitings of the public while devoting himself more to decoration. His financial means will then enable him to buy a house in Eragny in 1884.


Towards the end of 1882, Pissarro left Pontoise to settle in Osny , a village close to Pontoise, where he continued his work, sometimes in company of his friend Gauguin, who then belongs to his circle of disciples, as well as Guillaumin, and Cézanne who visits him from time to time.

From this time, his work evolves from simple to more diverse landscapes such as street scenes, market scenes with many characters, interiors with peasants. The landscape painter becomes also a painter of figures .

His pallet also moves towards more contrast in colors and smaller strokes. The weaving of pictorial surface is composed of particles of pigments of equal value.

In 1884, he settles in Eragny , close to the Epte river, where he will remain until his death.



Poultry market , Pontoise
Norton Simon Foundation
Los Angeles


About the middle of the 1880s, he met Seurat and was impressed by what will be named later neo-impressionism, and the divisionist technique, without totally adhering to Seurat or Signac's systematic and scientific approach.

View from my window, Eragny
c. 1886-88
The Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum


For a moment he will adopt small pointillism's irregular strokes, and will even exhibit with Seurat, Signac and his son Lucien Pissarro in 1886.

Until 1890, he will execute divisionist paintings on subjects such as cultivated landscapes, river views or peaceful scenes of country work, although preferring small strokes to the rigorous points of Seurat.



In 1890, on return of trips to Holland and England which revived his love of nature and his admiration for his Impressionist friends, Monet, Renoir, Degas and Sisley, he would turn away from "the systematic division of our friend and regretted Seurat", while keeping small tight strokes until the end of his work.


Pissarro's production, reduced until 1890, will become more abundant when financial difficulties re-appear and this although he suffers from an eyes' disease which prevents him from working in open-air .


In his late works, Pissarro will grant to metropolitan views an interest hitherto only expressed by Monet and Caillebotte. He rents rooms in Paris, Rouen, Dieppe and Le Havre, from which he paints dynamic perspectives of boulevards, places, rivers and bridges. As for Monet, he paints alternatives and repetitions to fix different lights.

One should see in this new evolution, due partly to his eyes' disease and his desire to satisfy his now many purchasers, Pissarro's social and progressist vision, in which what seems ugly in industrial development as regard to established order, may paradoxically appear beautiful.

In these city views, one can see again his aptitude for space composition, with major perspectives traversed by circulation and framed by buildings and alleys of trees, the whole setting bathing in a harmonious city light.


Boulevard Montmartre, night effect
National Gallery, London

Art dealer Durand-Ruel, who contributed to Pissarro's success in France and America, will devote him a monographic exhibition in 1992 .



Road, snow effect
New Walk Museum and Art Gallery,

The contribution of Pissarro to Impressionism is essential, by his work and his art which is one of the most representative and most brilliant Impressionist expression, as well as by the influence which he had on the other Impressionists.

Two of his pupils recognized until the end of their life the importance which the teaching of Pissarro had had for their art : Cezanne, whom he helped to paint more clearly in the Impressionist way and to seek form by means of colors, without any recourse to drawing, and Gauguin, of whom he supervised early works.

Cézanne, who would sometimes introduce himself as a pupil of Pissarro, will always keep a sincere affection towards Pissarro whom he named "the humble and colossal Pissaro" and of whom he will say "He was like a father for me. He was a man to be consulted and someone like God "