Camille Pissarro 1830 - 1903
Brouillard à l’Hermitage, Pontoise
Oil on canvas, 45 x 54.6cm.
Signed by the artist and dated 1879
inscribed verso on stretcher with title
Kenneth Clark, Saltwood Castle, Kent, by 1939;
Alan Clark, by descent from the above;
Sotheby’s, London, 7 November 1962 (Lot 88);
Acquired at the above sale and thence by descent to the previous
owners (Estate of the late the Hon. Anthony Samuel);
Christie’s, London, 8 February 2005 (Lot 213);
Private Collection, Dublin.
Exhibited: Paris, Galerie Manzi et Joyant, Retrospective des oeuvres de C. Pissarro,
January - February 1914, no.79bis;
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Pissarro - Sisley, June - July 1955,no. 9;
Cardiff, National Museum of Wales, Arts Council Exhibition, How
Impressionism Began, July - August 1960, no.37;
‘Turner and Impressionists’, Museo de Santa Giulia, Brescia, Italy,
28 October 2006 – 25 March 2007 (catalogue number 144),
courtesy of Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin.
L.R. Pissarro & L. Venturi, Camille Pissarro, Son art - son oeuvre,
vol.1, Paris 1939, no.476 (illustrated vol. II, p1.96);
Wildenstein Institute, Paris, Catalogue Raisonné of the paintings of Camille
Pissarro, 18 February 2005.
Camille Pissarro moved his family back to Pontoise, located to the northwest
of Paris, in August 1872 where he had previously lived from 1867 to 1869. In
the interim period he had lived in Louveciennes and visited London, but the
poor sales of his paintings put severe financial constraints on him, and he
hoped that Pontoise would again provide him with a favourable setting for
his work. For the next ten years Pissarro’s life and work would become
closely linked to the town, and more particularly to the small out-lying
hamlet of L’Hermitage, situated just to the north of Pontoise and nestling
in a narrow, steep-sided tributary valley of the Oise flood plain. He
painted more than three hundred pictures of Pontoise, L’Hermitage and its
surrounding countryside. These canvases pay homage to the rural solitude
that also attract Paul Cèzanne, Paul Gauguin and Armand Guillaumin who came
there to work with him in the late 1870’s. The paintings he produced during
his years in Pontoise form what is probably the most sustained portrait of a
place painted by any French landscape painter in the nineteenth century.
The biting cold December of 1879, which brought a heavy snowfall at the
beginning of the month, prompted Pissarro to begin a series of canvases of
snow scenes amongst which is the present work. This wintery snap also led
other Impressionists to return to the snow scene, particularly Monet and
Sisley. However, it was with Gauguin, with whom Pissarro had spent the
summer months of 1879, that a stylistic liaison is most evident. Gauguin’s
two views of Vaugirard, from the end of 1879, with their screen of trees;
their misty, snow-laden atmosphere, and their blue-violet reflections,
betray an obvious debt to the author of Brouillard à l’Hermitage, Pontoise.
This work at one time belonged to Lord Clark of Saltwood. Following his
appointment as the youngest ever Director of the National Gallery at the age
of thirty-one in 1933, Kenneth Clark (he became Sir Kenneth in 1938) gained
increasing prominence in the British art world, being appointed Surveyor of
the King’s Pictures in the following year, and playing a pivotal role in the
dropping of Duveen from the Board of Trustees and steering the National
Gallery through the war years. Wider fame came after the Second World War as
his books The Nude; Landscape into Art, and his television series, brought
him to the attention of the public at large.
Extract: Christie’s ’05 catalogue
Charcoal on blue tinted paper, 12 x 9 inches
Signed by the artist with initials CP
Exhibited: Milmo-Penny Fine Art, December 2002
This appears to be one of a number of sketches made in preparation for Pissarro’s important tempera work, La Moisson, painted in 1882. Indeed the final painting is notable for the unusually large number of preparatory drawings that preceded it. It is likely that the majority of these sketches were made during the harvest of August 1881. The finished tempera was itself one of 36 paintings and gouaches submitted by Pissarro to the seventh Impressionist exhibition in April 1882.
Executed in oil charcoal, the medium favoured by Degas, the recto shows two separate studies of male figures. Both men are wearing hats and rugged peasant clothing. Each figure carries a flail for threshing corn. Pissarro draws the figure on the left in rear view. The figure on the right is viewed in three quarter profile from behind. The sketch on the left, although rudimentary, is far more worked than the one on the right.
The verso also shows two separate studies of male figures engaged in the same activity. It appears that the same harvesters are depicted in both recto and verso. This time the two men are tying the reaped corn into sheaves. The lower sketch is far more worked than the one above. The lower figure wears a hat that is rounded at the top whilst the upper figure appears to have cast his a flat-topped hat onto the ground behind him. The detail of the discarded hat may not appear significant at first, however it was Pissarro’s attention to exactly this sort of detail in preparatory studies that allowed him to capture the essence of rural life so precisely in his finished canvases.
Both sides of our drawing are very similar in size and image to the recto and verso of Four studies of a male peasant flailing; Three studies of male harvesters (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1980, number 121, Brettell & Lloyd). The Ashmolean drawing offers both comparisons and contrasts with our own. The recto shows a number of sketches of harvesters flailing, whilst the verso contains images of sheaving. In contrast with the recto of our drawing, the Ashmolean recto shows four images, three of which are engaged in flailing and shown from a frontal view. The Ashmolean verso shows three sketches of sheaving, two from a three-quarter rear view, and one from the front in which the harvester wears a hat identical to the one that lies on the ground in our drawing.
It is probable that Millet’s L’été, les Batteurs de Sarrasin, was influential in Pissarro selection of subject matter for these drawings. Millet’s painting, which was exhibited at the Barbizon School Exhibition at Durand-Ruel in 1878, shows men flailing corn in the background of the composition. Such figures are absent from La Moisson, but our drawing and the Ashmolean verso may indicate Pissarro’s initial intention to include such figures in his final canvas.
At first glance, the current drawing appears crude and simplistic. However, this belies the work’s ability to convey the power and presence so characteristic of the hardy countrymen portrayed. Pissarro’s achievement here lies in conveying such complex notions in so pure, simple and spontaneous a manner. One shouldn’t be surprised at Pissarro’s ability to capture these emotions; after all, these are the unadulterated lines of one of the greatest French painters who ever lived.
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