Magazine article The Spectator

Intimate Insight

Magazine article The Spectator

Intimate Insight

Article excerpt

Exhibitions 2

Intimate insight

The Pissarro Family at Home

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, until 2 January 2005

And did those feet in ancient times

Walk upon London's suburbs green?

And was a canvas full of sun

On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did Pissarro's light divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was IMPRESSIONISM huilded here

Among these dark Satanic mills?

Well, up to a point, yes, if Camille and his son Lucien may be merged and those Satanic north of England mills, later to be turned a smoggy white by L.S. Lowry, kept in the distance.

Although retaining Danish nationality, having been born in the Danish West Indies, Camille Pissarro's feet, or rather one of them, in a genetic manner of speaking, may have hailed from the same vicinity as William Blake's 'Holy Lamb of God'. Pissarro's mother was Creole but his father was Jewish. Camille himself fathered seven children, for whom it was second nature to paint, including Lucien who settled at 62 Bath Road in 1897 on the edge of Bedford Park, Chiswick, the then trendy Garden Suburb. He moved to The Brook, in nearby Stamford Brook, in 1902. From The Brook, Lucien quietly disseminated the secrets of the Impressionist gospel and métier. He painted landscapes in Devon and elsewhere, and founded the Eragny Press, named after the family home at Eragny in Normandy.

By 1900, Camille, a refugee in south London from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, had already painted north Norwood, sunny Sydenham, the Crystal Palace, Dulwich, Hyde Park, Bedford Park and Kew. 'What lawns! What trees!' he wrote of the Botanical Gardens. Camille Pissarro was also the oldest French Impressionist, and the only one to show in all eight of their group exhibitions, thereby qualifying in the literature about Impressionism as 'Dean' or 'Father' of the movement. Furthermore, according to Cézanne, 'He was a father to me, and something like the good Lord.'

Despite being a committed, idealistic anarchist, Camille Pissarro developed a reputation as a sage. A late self-portrait borrowed from the Tate for this exhibition cements such an image. With his great black beard, later turning white, Pissarro looked thoroughly patriarchal, rabbinical even, but he did not practise the Jewish faith. Nor did he use his art to further his anarchical political views. The faith Pissarro practised and passed on to his eldest son Lucien was the Impressionist faith. He had studied the old masters in the Louvre. …

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