Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)

Biography

Jacob-Abraham-Camille Pissarro was born in 1830 in St Thomas in the Virgin Islands, where he lived until the age of 12, when he moved to a boarding school in Paris. In 1855, determined to become an artist, he returned to Paris, where he studied at various academic institutions including the École des Beaux-Arts and Académie Suisse, under a succession of masters such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet.

His finest early work is characterized by a broadly painted naturalism often featuring the use of a palette knife, derived from Courbet but showing the beginnings of what would later become an Impressionist palette.

The Franco-Prussian War forced Pissarro to flee France in September 1870. He returned to find that the house, and along with it many of his early paintings had been destroyed by Prussian soldiers. In December 1870 Pissarro and his family settled in London at Westow Hill in Upper Norwood, known today as Crystal Palace, where he produced many paintings. Pissarro continued to visit London and paint there throughout his career.

Whilst in Upper Norwood Pissarro was introduced to the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who bought two of his 'London' paintings. Durand-Ruel subsequently became the most important art dealer of the new school of French Impressionism.

Pissarro painted rural and urban French life, particularly landscapes in and around Pontoise, as well as scenes from Montmartre. His mature work displays an empathy for peasants and labourers, sometimes showing evidence of his radical political leanings. He was a mentor to Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin and his example inspired many younger artists.

Pissarro exhibited at all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions. Whereas Monet was the most prolific and emblematic practitioner of the Impressionist style, Pissarro was nonetheless a primary developer of Impressionist technique.

Pissarro experimented with Neo-Impressionist ideas between 1885 and 1890. Discontented with what he referred to as "romantic Impressionism," he investigated Pointillism which he called "scientific Impressionism" before returning to a purer Impressionism in the last decade of his life.

Pissarro died in Paris on 13 November 1903 and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.