Camille Pissarro is one of the greatest masters of the French Impressionist and Neo Impressionist movements in the nineteenth century. His paintings are celebrated for the sensation of air, light and transparency they generate through his careful scientific colour analysis.
In the late 1860s, Pissarro, Monet and Renoir moved to Louveciennes and became fascinated by the possibilities of en plein air painting. However, the development of Impressionism was interrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in July 1870.
After being impressed by the work of British artist J.M.W Turner, Pissarro confirmed that he and Monet were right in their en plein air pursuit of light and atmosphere. They were particularly impressed by Turner’s depiction of snow and fog, realising that such dazzling effect was not created by a solid mass of white, but by diverse colours jostling side-by side.
From the late 1870s the period of late Impressionism, Pissarro worked to broaden his practice. Unlike Monet, he did not explore atmospheric variations but he did vary his subjects. He was constantly questioning and developing his technique in relation to his evolving artistic theories. After meeting George Seurat (inventor of the pointillist technique) in 1885, Pissarro began to radically modify his approach to painting in line with this new movement, which he saw as the next logical advancement of Impressionism.
In 1884, Pissarro and his family moved to the French village of Éragny. Inspired by the beauty of his surrounds, Pissarro began to develop his largest and most significant body of landscape paintings. His finest example from this period is Prairie à Éragny, 1886 which reveals a freshness and vitality in both his use of colour and brushwork. Prairie à Éragny, is a superb example of an Impressionist painting, created at the height of the movement. The palette of warm pinks and mauves, vivid greens and bright powder blues is iconic, depicting the landscape through colour juxtapositions, which was applied directly to the canvas in short brush strokes.
Prairie à Éragny’s shimmering luminosity (perceived brightness) is attributed to Pissarro’s adaption of the emerging Neo-Impressionist technique whereby dots of pure colour, one next to the other in specific contrast, combine optically (at an appropriate distance) to achieve maximum luminosity.
- What is the first thing you noticed about the image Prairie à Éragny?
- What time of day is it in this scene? What season is it?
- What colours do you see when looking at Pissarro’s painting close up? Step further away, what colours do you see now?
- View Prairie à Éragny at a close distance, now step further away and look again. How does Prairie à Éragny change?
- Look closely at Prairie à Éragny. Now close your eyes. What was the first thing you remember about this painting?
- What is the optimum distance to view Prairie à Éragny? E.g. When does the painting appear the brightest or most luminous?
- Imagine being in this scene. Describe your surroundings and what the day is like.
- Use a view finder to look closely at Prairie à Éragny. Describe the brushstrokes Pissarro has used. Compare Pissarro’s brushstrokes to another Impressionist artist. How do their techniques differ? Tip Look at Paul Signac in the Gallery’s collection.
- Investigate the scientific developments that occurred during the nineteenth century that prompted Pissarro to change the way he was painting. Use works of art that demonstrate scientific advancement in either physics and biology (how we see colour) or chemistry (the way colour was made).
- Pair Prairie à Éragny with one contemporary work of art. What led you to make your selection? With a partner, discuss the connections you made between these two works.
- Lucien Pissarro was Camille Pissarro’s eldest son and also a talented artist. Compare works by Lucien to that of Camille Pissarro. Suggest how Camille influenced Lucien’s work and find an example where Lucien was influenced by another artist or where he adopted his own unique style.
- Experiment with different primary and secondary coloured paper side by side. Which is the brightest? Which colour appears the least vivid when next to other colours? In small groups discuss your observations.
- Create a landscape collage using coloured tracing paper. Tear the paper and use a window to shine light through your image. Experiment with making areas of your collage lighter and darker without using black or white paper.
- Using a Neo Impressionist approach of placing complementary colours side by side, create a painting of your favourite place.