Pissarro: Father of Impressionism
Exhibition Review: 18 February - 12 June 2022. Tickets from £6 - £12.25. Free for under 12s, Oxford Students, Carers and Pass holders. Book tickets here.
[Disclosure: I attended this exhibition for free and was provided with an exhibition catalogue for free for the purposes of this review.]
The Ashmolean’s new exhibition is about fatherhood – specifically about the fatherhood practiced by Pissarro throughout his life, both towards his own children and towards the artists that came into his orbit. It is also an incredibly loving and generous exhibition – the curator, Colin Harrison, has chosen beautiful pieces that demonstrate the love Pissarro had for those around him.
Camille Pissarro, Portrait of Lucien Pissarro, 1874. Lithograph on paper, 27.8 cm x 38.1cm. One of my favourite pieces in the whole exhibition, showing Pissarro's son, aged 11, sitting on a couch and sketching.
By meandering through the four rooms that make up this exhibition – we get to know Pissarro as a living, breathing and loving human being.
In the third gallery, taken by me on press day.
We learn that Pissarro was humble – instead of dictating to junior acolytes, as was traditional for master artists at the time, Pissarro wanted to establish genuinely collaborative relationships. Even in later life – he was keen to collaborate with, and learn from, the younger generation with humility and generosity.
Camille Pissarro, Study of a Woman Lying on the ground, 1882.
This curiosity is beautifully demonstrated by the curator, who has chosen extraordinary pieces not only by Pissarro but by those with whom he collaborated, was influenced by or influenced, including Monet, Sisley, Cezanne, Degas, Seurat, Gauguin and Van Gogh.
Paul Gauguin, Apple Trees at l'Hermitage, 1879.
The exhibition is literally packed with masterpieces.
Camille Pissarro, Spring: Plum Trees in Bloom, 1877.
The exhibition also includes a multitude of examples of Pissarro’s nurturing and fun approach to his children’s artistic development. The legacy of that gentle enrichment can be felt even now with many of Pissarro’s great grandchildren active in the art world today.
Camille Pissarro and family. 'Le Guignol', 1889. The Pissarro family's annual magazine - contributed to by his children and full of illustrated poems, stories, funny drawings and etchings. The strange angle of the photo is due to my trying to avoid reflections from the glass case.
If I had one criticism of this exhibition, it is not in the curation, but the design and layout of the exhibition itself – particularly in the final gallery – into which partition walls have been built to create a sort of rectangle in the middle of the room.
Camille Pissarro, Design for a Fan: The Pea Stagers, 1890.
Some of the finest works are displayed in the final gallery, and the size and positioning of that interior rectangle feels like an unnecessary imposition on the space.
The charcoal drawing on the right is the study that Pissarro did in 1893-4 - which he used for several different compositions including the two on the left. One the left, The Two Bathers, 1895, soft-ground etching, drypoint, metal brush and open bite, printed on Japanese paper. In the middle, Two Female Bathers in a Wooded Landscape 1893-4, pen and ink with grey wash over pencil on laid paper.
The flow of the exhibition goes from beautiful and meandering in the first three galleries to a very specific – counter clockwise path, ending with the final magnificent portrait in a slightly strange and, what felt like to me, cramped position.
Partial view of the final gallery, taken by me on press day.
I also didn't like the display stands in the third gallery, which had quite a hasty, temporary feel about them.
View of the third gallery, in which you can see the display stands that I didn't like. Taken by me on press day.
However, in the scheme of things, this is nothing.
Camille Pissarro, The Quarry, Pontoise, around 1874.
I think everybody will be enriched by visiting this beautiful, moving and whimsical exhibition.
* Feature image, Camille Pissarro, Apple Picking, Eragny, 1887-8. Oil and canvas, 61cm x 74 cm.
All high quality images, provided to me by the Ashmolean. All other photos, taken by me on press day and © Catherine Flutsch.