Art; Pissarro in London

Article excerpt


When Camille Pissarro made his first trip across the Channel with his young family in 1870, they were fleeing the Franco-Prussian war, but he quickly built up enough personal links with London to keep him coming back, and before the century was out, he made three further visits, staying in Bayswater, Kew and Bedford Park. On each occasion he painted, and he painted what he found on his doorstep: the city's suburbs, complete with washing lines, locomotives and gas lamps. In this respect, Pissarro was unique among the many other French artists who visited London during those years.

This exhibition features 10 of these canvases, and offers a chance not only to see London through Impressionist eyes, but also to glimpse these unglamorous, workaday quarters on the cusp of development and industrialisation. Of course, over a century ago it was a smaller, leafier place, and the red bricks of the new houses invariably contrast with juicy greens, while English weather skids across blue skies above - but many of the buildings and views that Pissarro captured so affectionately still exist today.

Pissarro's Upper Norwood lodgings lay within sight of Crystal Palace, one of the most remarkable features of London's Victorian skyline, but his painting backgrounds this glittering construction, tucking it behind houses and a couple strolling arminarm to make it just another element of the suburban scenery.

By the time Pissarro made his second and third visits, some two decades later, Impressionism had lost its coherence and he was dogged by financial concerns and problems with his eyesight that made it difficult to work outdoors. It was from a window, then, that he looked down on a bank holiday at Kew, and recorded the crowds below in vivid oils, depicting a scene as teeming as those in his paintings of Paris made later in the 1890s. …


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