The Big Daddy of Impressionists was born today, almost 200 years ago

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The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, 1897. National Gallery

July 10, On This Day

Making quite an impression

Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro, circa 1900

Born on July 10, 1830 — that’s 191 years ago — Camille Pissarro is a famous Danish-French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter. His trajectory as an artist began in the beautiful Caribbean climes, as he was born on the island of St Thomas (now in the US Virgin Islands, but then in the Danish West Indies). At the time of his birth, it was a Dutch territory, and provided incredible landscapes for him to capture on his easel.

Two Women Chatting by the Sea, St. Thomas, 1856
Entrée du village de Voisins, 1872. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

At 21, Pissarro left to work as an artist and live in Venezuela. By 1855, he moved back to Paris. Here, unfortunately, much of his early work was destroyed in the Franco-Prussian War, which lasted from 1870 to 1871, and caused Pissarro and his family to flee, eventually settling in southwest London. When the family returned to France in June 1871, their house had been destroyed by Prussian soldiers — and with it, only 40 out of 1,500 early paintings had survived.

In 1869 Pissarro settled in Louveciennes and would often paint the road to Versailles in various seasons.[13] Walters Art Museum.
La Récolte des Foins, Eragny, 1887
Pont Boieldieu in Rouen, Rainy Weather, 1896. Art Gallery of Ontario

Pissarro’s importance is in his contributions to both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism as landmark movements in art history. He studied from great forerunners like Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. He later studied and worked alongside Georges Seurat and Paul Signac when he took on the Neo-Impressionist style at age 54. Pissarro is the only artist to have shown his work at all eight Paris Impressionist exhibitions, from 1874 to 1886.

Portrait of Paul Cézanne by Camille Pissarro, 1874. National Gallery
The Fish Market, Dieppe: Grey Weather, Morning, c 1902. Dallas Museum of Art

During his time at Académie Suisse, Pissarro met artists such as Claude Monet, Armand Guillaumin, and Paul Cezanne who also expressed their dissatisfaction with Paris Salon standards. In 1873, Pissarro helped establish a collective society of 15 aspiring artists — the Société Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs, et Graveurs — becoming the “pivotal” figure in holding the group together and encouraging the other members. He was not only the oldest in the group but was incredibly encouraging and paternal. He “acted as a father figure not only to the Impressionists” but to all four of the major Post-Impressionists, Cézanne, Seurat, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh.

Old Chelsea Bridge, London 1890. Smith College Museum of Arts
The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, 1897. National Gallery

Several artworks by Pissarro were looted from their Jewish owners in Germany, France and elsewhere by the Nazis, amongst other major artworks. In the decades after World War II, many art masterpieces were found on display in various galleries and museums in Europe and the United States, often with false provenances and labels missing. Some, as a result of legal action, were later returned to the families of the original owners. Many of the recovered paintings were then donated to the same or other museums as a gift.

Pissarro passed away on November 13, 1903, leaving behind a grand legacy of uplifting art.

Allée dans une forêt (Road in a Forest), 1859, oil on canvas