Camille Pissarro
Prairie à Éragny

Camille Pissarro, France, 1830 - 1903, Prairie à Éragny, 1886, Éragny, France, oil on canvas, 59.4 x 73.0 cm; Gift of the Gwinnett Family, James and Diana Ramsay Foundation, Roy and Marjory Edwards Bequest Fund, Margaret Olley Art Trust, Helen Bowden, Frank and Mary Choate, Peter and Pamela McKee, Emeritus Professor Anne Edwards AO, David and Pam McKee, and Members through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation Masterwork Appeal 2014., Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

About this work of art

This view of a meadow is one that greeted Impressionist master Camille Pissarro almost daily for twenty years. The meadow lay just metres from his farmhouse home at Éragny, north of Paris, and formed part of his modest rural acreage. From the time he bought the farmhouse in 1884 until his death in 1903, Pissarro produced hundreds of oil paintings and dozens of watercolours of this field and the farmland within a kilometre of his home. He explored its moods of light and character of colour. From the brightest summer, to fog and floods of autumn. For Pissarro, the meadow offered both tranquil constancy and ceaseless variety.

In the spring of 1886, at the time he painted this scene of serenity, Pissarro’s career was in upheaval. Pissarro had been a crucial figure in the establishment of Impressionism as a movement and in the formation of his fellow painters – notably Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Edgar Degas – into a cohesive group, called the Impressionists. Now he was taking a new direction from them. He was exploring pointillism, a painting technique that sought to achieve greater luminosity by separating colours into individual dots of paint applied close together. The hallmark of the emerging neo-Impressionist painters, this slower and more precise technique ran contrary to the spontaneity at the heart of Impressionism.

Pissarro’s letters from that spring reveal the tensions and rivalries emerging between the two groups, Impressionists and neo-Impressionists, as he arranged the Impressionists’ eighth exhibition for May 1886. That exhibition turned out to be the Impressionists’ last. Pissarro insisted on including his neo-Impressionist colleagues Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, as well as Paul Gauguin, while Impressionist stalwarts Renoir and Monet chose not to exhibit.

Amid this turmoil, Prairie à Éragny embodies Pissarro’s change in direction – from Impressionism to neo-Impressionism – both in the moment and in the method of its creation. With his shift towards pointillism, he creates bands of shimmering colour that exquisitely capture the warmth of a glowing spring day, from the cloudless blue sky above to the luxurious greens of the meadow grasses.

Prairie à Éragny shows the pioneer of Impressionism again pursuing new discoveries, new ways of painting, even when aged in his mid-fifties. In this familiar landscape, Pissarro is looking to a new horizon.


Audio description of the work of art

Painted in 1886 in France, this is an oil on canvas painting, 59.4cms high by 73cms wide, full of vitality and colour.

Pissarro has lovingly and expertly rendered a bright, morning view of a meadow and a tree-lined hillside surrounding it. It is an idyllic, tranquil, French country scene of a particular style. One tree stands out in the mid-ground. The technique used here is Neo-impressionism,a disciplined network of dots and blocks of colour, instilling a sense of organisation and permanence. Colour mixing does not occur before the paint is applied, the time-consuming application of dots or dashes makes it possible to create a sophisticated, luminous effect, that from a distance, allows for depth and nuance of colour, replicating actual light conditions.

At the top of the frame is a fresh, spring sky, unbroken by clouds, created in baby blue, pastel blue, sky blue and powder blue dashes and dots. They juxtapose each another interspersed with dashes of white, beige, cream and pink. A plethora of luminous, delicate shades culminates in a crisp and hopeful sky. It is much whiter and lighter near the horizon line, close to a tree-lined crest, rising from the meadow in the foreground.

Against the organised splendour of Pisarros’s sky, the trees intricately rendered, their foliage made from a range of colours- reds, yellow, orange, rust coloured and green accentuates the sunshine cutting across a tranquil country scene, from our left. One tree is the focus, just off centre in the foreground.

Beyond the tree are A-frame, stone, farm buildings. Three buildings sit in a clearing at left casting shadows. Towards the centre, peaked rooves rise from within a cluster of light brown, yellow and green trees. Tall, light coloured conifers grow side by side, next to the dark foliage of denser, shorter trees.

Closer in, smaller shrubs form a meandering line along a fence, cutting across the image. Light green, new grass blankets the ground and these shrubs cast thin shadows onto the meadow.

In the lower half; a sprawling, flat green meadow and a lively, lush apple tree, its leaves reaching into sky. It grows at the corner of a recently furrowed field. A triangle of this field fills the bottom left of the painting, as though tilled earth continues off left beyond the frame. Troughs and diverts in the freshly turned soil are made from dashes, in light blue, dark blue, and purple. The dirt is yellowish-brown, violet and amber where it is caught in the sun’s rays.

One side of the apple tree’s trunk is yellow in the sunlight and from its branches sprout lush, fresh lime and emerald-green leaves. Its foliage is rendered in many more tones than light and dark green, there are spots of camel, burnt umber, orange and deep blue-green, depicting sunlight and shadow falling on the tree.

This healthy tree casts a patch of shadow over to our right and meters from it, rising from a generous mound of dirt and old leaves, is a smaller, wizened trunk, forking into two boughs. These are snarled sticks from which no foliage grows. To the right and disappearing out of frame, foliage of a third tree with its trunk unseen.

In the painting’s foreground is heavily applied dashes of dark green, light green, reds and pinks, blanketing the flat land.

Throughout, the artist has used blues sporadically and liberally, the whole of the country scene alive with nuanced shadow and light: bands of shimmering colour that exquisitely capture the warmth of a glowing spring day; from the cloudless blue sky above to the luxurious greens of the meadow grasses.