Published: October 18, 2011
“Pissarro’s People” brings one 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, on view October 22⁊anuary 22 at the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, offers a groundbreaking perspective on Camille Pissarro (1830‱903), 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 Dr 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 essential to a full understanding of the human element in his art: his family ties, his friendships and his intense intellectual involvement with the social and political theories of his time.
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 “Self-Portrait,” 1873, from the Musée d’Orsay, painted at the age of 43. “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 devoted husband and father.
Pissarro was the only Impressionist who made figure paintings in which the domestic worker is the central motif. The exhibit brings together a choice group of paintings representing maidservants and washerwomen, including “The Maidservant,” 1875, Chrysler Museum of Art; “Washerwoman, Study,” 1880, Metropolitan Museum of Art; “The Little Country Maid,” 1882, Tate Collection; and “In the Garden at Pontoise: A Young Woman Washing Dishes,” 1882, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
The key theme of domestic labor is linked, in turn, to Pissarro’s views on agricultural labor and the market economy in works such as “The Harvest,” 1882, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; “The Gisors Market,” 1887, Columbus Museum of Art; and his biting album of anarchist drawings titled Les turpitudes sociales , 1889‹0, from a private collection and which is being shown for the first time.
Pissarro was in many ways a political and ethnic outsider in his adopted country of France. Born into a Sephardic Jewish family on the Danish colony of Saint Thomas in the Caribbean on July 10, 1830, he would never become a French citizen. He died a Danish citizen in Paris on November 13, 1903.
The Legion of Honor is in Lincoln Park, 100 34th Avenue and Clement Street. For information, 415-750-3600 or www.legionofhonor.org .
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