France • 1830−1903
Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro (10 July 1830, the island of St Thomas – 12 November 1903, Paris) was a French artist, one of the founders of Impressionist style, who formulated its main principles and became a teacher and mentor for the young artists-innovators.

The artistic characteristics of Camille Pissarro: his main subjects, artistic goals and sources of inspiration included the ground he walked on, the air whose density changed everything, and the light whose intensity influenced the perception of colour. Pure colours, dense separate brushstrokes, a series of paintings created at different times of the day – Pissarro has been faithful to the technical finds of the style named Impressionism throughout all his work.

Famous paintings by Camille Pissarro: “The Côte des Bœufs at L'Hermitage near Pontoise”, “Boulevard Montmartre, Spring Morning”, “The Boulevard Montmartre at Night”, “Hoarfrost”, “The Red Roofs”.

The biography of five in ten artists of Impressionism (and Post-Impressionism) can be started with the words: "If it were not for Camille Pissarro..." In 1902, the 63-year-old Paul Cézanne, already a recognized painter, signed his paintings for one of the exhibitions as "Pissarro's pupil". Gauguin, perhaps, would have remained a stock broker, collecting paintings, if it hadn't been for Pissarro.

His personal talent, apart from to the spiritual and emotional vigilance, was the ability to "grasp the essence of the place". He was an artist of land. He painted in a rural garden near Paris, by the side of a dusty road, on a wide city street or even in the midst of a frozen field – as if his pulse changed depending on the place he visited.

Saint Thomas

Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro was born on the small tropical Antilles island of St. Thomas more than 7 thousand kilometers from France... There were palm trees, the sun, slow paced, scorching, safe life of a successful merchant's son, and no opportunity to become a real artist. At least because there was nowhere to buy paint and no one to learn from.

Throughout his life, until the very death, Pissarro was looking for artistic truth and exploring new techniques. It might have resulted from the lack of academic art education. He absorbed the world through his eyes and was genuinely passionate about his own findings in art and his fellow artists' innovations. The whole world was his school.


Having worked in his father's store for 5 years, the 22-year-old boy ran away to Caracas, leaving his parents just a note. Of course, he did it in search of new impressions, new facts, and of course, without any money. Yet, he was short of money the next 40 years. In Venezuela, he painted a lot with his friend, the artist Fritz Melbye, made his own living and returned home in three years with a precise understanding of his purpose. Camille's father let him go to France.


Paris appeared to be too big, noisy, extremely free and defiantly unabashed for a modest Jewish boy. The city was rapidly changing in those years – there appeared wide boulevards, new modern buildings and the first gas lamps. In 1855, having made it into the big world, he got straight to The Exposition Universelle in Paris.

The rhythm of his life immediately changed: great artists-mentors CorotCourbet and Millet, The Académie Suisse, acquaintance with the young MonetRenoir and Degas, joint plein airs and constant talks about revolutionary art. 10 years older than each of them, it was Pissarro to become the inspiration and mentor of the Society of the outcasts. He discovered and developed the main artistic principles of the future Impressionists.

Pontoise, Louveciennes

Rebelling against the official Salon and popular art is an inherently unprofitable idea. In the 60's, the painter was desperately poor; he would walk all day long through the streets of Paris in search of small orders. He would engage in painting curtains and other applied art. He moved to Pontoise in the suburbs of Paris, and later - to Liuvesenne, driven not so much by his love for rural landscapes as by the fact that living there was quite cheaper.

In 1860, Pissarro fell in love with the maid serving his mother. The artist married Julie Vellay in 10 years, and by that time the couple had already had two children. And later, six more were born. The artist had an incredible sense of purpose, continuing to paint rural landscapes and in the internim helping his wife grow a vegetable garden to provide for his family.


When the Franco-Prussian war began in 1970, only young independent romantics could dream of serving the country, while Pissarro had to save his family. Just like his friend Claude Monet. They went to London together. Both of them had their own important meetings there: the ones with fog, Turner and Paul Durand-Ruel.
London with its unique landscapes and atmospheric effects won over the landscape painter Pissarro – the air there was cold, heavy, slow, and felt almost tangible. Filled with admiration, he painted spring rains, thick fogs and snowfalls. In British museums the painter couldn’t go by Turner's watercolours and canvases without delight – there were so much light in them! And, finally, Durand-Rue – the first professional art dealer, who bought two Pissarro's landscapes for 200 pounds each! The artist’s life became livable.

Louveciennes, Pontoise

In 1974 the first Impressionist exhibition was held: among the 165 paintings hung on the red walls in the studio of the popular photographer Nadar, there were 5 canvases by Pissarro. In two years the second exhibition was held, and in one more year – the third one. By the fifth exhibition, many of Pissarro's colleagues, tired of poverty and total rejection, were disappointed and refused to participate further, but it wasn't about Pissarro. It took him 8 years and 7 exhibitions, until his faith in his work was finally justified financially.


In 1893, the same Durand-Ruel, who had been supporting Pissarro and other Impressionists all those 20 years, opened the artist’s exhibition. There were displayed 46 artworks by Pissarro. We can't say that the painter became extremely popular and rich. He enjoyed the stable sales of his paintings and yet was always afraid that his hunger times could return.

Pissarro's heart ceased to beat in 1903. Today his paintings adorn the collections of the world's greatest museums, and yet he is not as famous as his friends and disciples Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne or Gauguin. All his five sons and even some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren became artists. After all, being a convincing teacher and sticking to the chosen path is an incredibly rare gift.

Author: Anna Sidelnikova
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