Camille Pissarro THE IDEALIST IMPRESSIONIST by Alexandra Anderson

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After those Tanglewood concerts, culture-vulture visitors to the Berkshires typically include a day trip to the Clark Art Institute on their itinerary, where they are guaranteed a museum visit without peer. This summer, the earnest, now distinctly graying baby-boomer crowd is flocking to "Pissarro’s People," a scholarly exhibition organized and curated by the dynamo art historian Richard R. Brettell.
Brettell has pulled together over 90 lesser-known paintings, gouaches, drawings and prints by the bearded Impressionist patriarch Camille Pissarro(1830-1903), whom he happily claims as one of his first Impressionist loves. Created between 1874 and the early 1900s, the various works in the show portray members of the artist’s family, including many of his eight children, his domestic help and his myriad friends, many of them artists.
Among the most touching and intimate paintings are those of his small daughter Minette, who died when she was only eight. (The tone of the 1872Minette in the Garden is reminiscent of Fairfield Porter’s tender paintings of his children.) For Camille Pissarro was arguably the most family-oriented of his Impressionist and Post-Impressionist colleagues, and was also the most openhearted, hospitable and politically idealistic, even as he remained a kind of perpetual outsider in France.

He was born in 1830 on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, then a Danish possession, to unmarried parents who both were Sephardic Jews. His family sent him to school outside of Paris when he was still a teenager, but he had returned to the island by 1847. Instead of entering his family’s business, he was determined to become an artist and off he went to Haiti and Venezuela to paint with the peripatetic Danish artist Fritz Melbye, who became one of his close friends.
Remaining a life-long Danish citizen, even after he moved for good to Paris seriously to study art in 1855, Pissarro always seems to have been happiest living in the country, surrounded by his large extended family and friends. He first moved in 1866 to L’Hermitage, a small hamlet outside the market town of Pontoise, where he lived and worked until 1868. (After the Franco-Prussian War, the family moved to a farm in Eragny, bought with money Pissarro’s wife quietly borrowed fromMonet.)
Pissarro repeatedly painted the rural scenes around the town. The show features numerous stippled views of healthy farm workers idyllically picking apples, harvesting wheat and resting in the fields. My favorite painting in the show is the large and exceptionally luminous Apple-Picking, from 1986, which reveals Pissarro’s close relationship with Seurat during the 1890s.

Brettell took several years to put this show together, and has rounded up several of Pissarro’s rarely exhibited, stare-right-at-yourself portraits, a few rather beautiful nudes and some ambitiously busy village-market scenes, plus some interesting prints and several of the painter’s more familiar, more dynamic birds-eye-view urban Parisian street scenes.
Exhibited here for the first time ever is the anarchist artist’s Les Turpitudes Social. Sequestered for a century in a private collection, this is a flamingly political kind of 19th-century graphic album of 28 pencil, pen and ink drawings that Pissarro made for the private pleasure of his English nieces in 1889. He made sure it avoided the censors, for it contains his most explicit illustrations of what he perceived as the evils of modern capitalism, complete with viciously satirical images of greedy bankers, starving families and violent worker protests.

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