Pissarro's People

Article excerpt

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"PISSARRO'S PEOPLE" brings us face to face with one of the most complex and captivating members of the Impressionist group, a man whose life was as quietly revolutionary as his art. The exhibition offers a groundbreaking perspective on Camille Pissarro, the painter and printmaker best known for his large body of landscapes and urban views. This is the first exhibition to focus on Pissarro's personal ties and social ideas through his lifelong engagement with the human figure.

Based on extensive new scholarship by curator Richard R. Brettell, the exhibition brings together more than 100 oil paintings and works on paper from public and private collections around the world. Ranging from Pissarro's earliest years in Paris until his death in 1903, these works explore the three dimensions of his life that are essential to a full understanding of the human element in his art: family ties; friendships; and the intense intellectual involvement with the social and political theories of his time.

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According to Brettell, "Scholars have tended to treat Pissarro's politics and his art in two separate categories, often refusing to see the most basic connections between them. This is largely because Pissarro was less a political activist than a social and economic philosopher. The title of the exhibition, 'Pissarro's People,' is not merely an allusion to his politics, but points to a larger attempt to explore all aspects of his humanism. The exhibition embodies his pictorial humanism and creates a series of contexts, linking his web of family and friends to his profound social and economic concerns."

Presiding over the powerful themes of this exhibition are three of the artist's four major self-portraits, starting with his earliest, painted at age 43 in 1873. "Pissarro's People" is the first exhibition to bring these works together with portrait likenesses of every member of the artist's immediate family, reflecting the importance that he attached to his roles as a devoted husband and father.

Pissarro was the only Impressionist who made figure paintings in which the domestic worker is the central motif. The exhibition showcases an extraordinary group of paintings representing maidservants and washerwomen, including "The Maidservant" (1875), "Washerwoman, Study" (1880), "The Little Country Maid" (1882), and "In the Garden at Pontoise: A Young Woman Washing Dishes" (1882). …