Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pissarro's People at the Legion

Self Portrait
 “Pissarro’s People,” opening this weekend at the Legion of Honor, brings together more than 100 paintings, showing his humanistic viewpoint through portraits of his family and paintings of working class people and peasants of late 19th century France. Pissarro was the most modest, the most committed and the most politically radical of the impressionists and for us, the least known.

Apple Pickers

Those who believe impressionism viewed the world through misty idealistic glasses should ponder Pissarro's commitment to "our modern philosophy, which is absolutely social, antiauthoritarian and antimystical ... a robust art based on sensation,"- a philososphy he expressed in paint. He was a committed anarchist and believed that Impressionism was the natural way to present social progress, science and ethical behavior. He believed that natural vision was a primary value in art, achieved through a direct encounter with the "thing seen."

His paintings of the working class and peasantry of 19th century France were far from the usual contemporary genre scenes but portraits of those who he saw as active and individual forces in contemporary life. Ordinary people, rather than gods, goddess and mythological beings, were important subjects. His working men and women, albeit somewhat idealized, were were seen as harmonious with nature, productive, working, leading a fulfilling life, neither brutalized or sentimentalized.

Maid making cafe au lait.

As Robert Hughes wrote, "There has long been a tendency to repeat, without checking it against the pictures, Gauguin's irritable verdict that Pissarro was a good second-rater, "always wanting to be on top of the latest trend ... he's lost any kind of personality, and his work lacks unity." So although there has been no lack of Degas shows, Monet retrospectives, homages to Cézanne and museum tributes to Bazille or Caillebotte, Pissarro has remained less known—an irony, since, with his peculiar steadfastness and probity, he was the linchpin of the impressionist group."
 
all images courtesy of the FAMSF.

1 comment:

Zoomie said...

Looks like a wonderful show. I read a book about his life last year and came away with a greater appreciation of his work and his influence.