Monday, January 19

Camille Pissarro's Letters

Today’s Image
Le Boulevard Montmartre, Paris
Camille Pissarro 1897

In the Art Library

I’m back in the art library after a month or so to report on an interesting and unexpected book about an artist. It’s Camille Pissarro (pronounced pee-sah-row) Letters to His Son Lucien. As you probably already know, Camille Pissarro is one of the prominent Impressionists during that era that changed the way paintings were rendered and appreciated by the public.
I found this book at a used bookstore in my area, but I don’t think it had ever been opened or, if so, you couldn’t tell it, because it is like new. The book was originally compiled and edited by John Rewald in 1958, and the copyright was renewed in 1978 and 2002. It’s published by MFA Publications.

This is not your typical book about art or artists by any stretch of the imagination. What it is, is a collection of letters from Camille Pissarro to his son Lucien; most are letters to his eldest son, Lucien, but there are also several to Lucien’s wife Esther and Pissarro’s other sons, Lucien’s brothers. The letters cover a period of 20 years from 1883 to 1903, the year of Pissarro’s death.
There are several things which make this book so interesting.

For one, it’s an intimate reading of the relationships within the Pissarro family including not only Pissarro and Lucien but also other family members. That includes Pissarro’s wife, Julie, and several of his other eight children who are also mentioned (Felix, Georges, Rodolphe, Jeanne, Paul-Emile) in addition to Lucien.

You can see the family’s struggles with finances and the social issues of the times over the two decades. Pissarro was a prolific painter who traveled and moved around extensively to find new motifs and locations. Pissarro encouraged his sons Lucien, Georges, and Felix (nicknamed TiTi) to pursue art as a career and even supported them during the early years of their careers, much to the dismay of his wife. Lucien’s career as an engraver during the early years of the graphic arts is noted in the letters. Some of the letters are most touching as they cover the death of one of his sons.

Secondly, and in addition to the interesting internal family relationships, the other thing that stands out is the ongoing discussion of the current (at that time) art world in terms of acceptance of Pissarro’s and other Impressionists’ artwork by the public and art galleries in Europe and America.

Pissarro was acquainted with, if not a friend of, most all the important Impressionists (and post-Impressionists) including Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt, Van Gogh, and was a mentor to Gauguin. It’s most interesting to read what Pissarro had to say about his contemporaries in these personal letters to his son.

Although not in color, many pieces of his artwork and sketches are included throughout along with several family photos.

The letters provide an in-depth view to the Impressionist era that you rarely or never have gotten from typical art history books or even biographies. If you like to read about the Impressionists, or want to learn more about their life and times, then Camille Pissarro Letters to His Son Lucien is a must-read.


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