Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)

La route de Versailles, Marly-le-Roi

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
La route de Versailles, Marly-le-Roi
signed and dated 'C. Pissarro 70' (lower left)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
8 x 11 1/8 in. (20.3 x 28.3 cm.)
Painted in 1870
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris.
Private collection, France (acquired from the above, April 1935).
Private collection, France (by descent from the above); sale, Sotheby's, London, 29 June 1999, lot 110.
Acquired at the above sale by Achim Moeller Fine Art on behalf of John C. Whitehead.
L.R. Pissarro and L. Venturi, Camille Pissarro, son artson oeuvre, Paris, 1939, vol. I, p. 102, no. 168 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. 34; titled La route de Port-Marly; dated 1872).
J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro, Catalogue critique des peintures, Paris, 2005, vol. II, p. 147, no. 168 (illustrated in color; with incorrect medium).
New York, Achim Moeller Fine Art, From Daumier to Matisse, Selections from the John C. Whitehead Collection, May 2002, pp. 36 and 74, no. 3 (illustrated in color, pp. 37 and 74; titled La route de Port-Marly; dated 1872).

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Morgan Schoonhoven
Morgan Schoonhoven

Lot Essay

Pissarro moved to Louveciennes, a suburb to the west of Paris, in 1869. Painted in 1870, the present work depicts one of the roads leading to the neighboring commune of Port-Marly. Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were all painting in the Louveciennes area when Pissarro arrived and there can be no doubt that the impetus to move from Pontoise came from the desire to mingle with this new generation of landscape painters. In Louveciennes Pissarro embarked upon the experiments in plein-air painting that would lead Cézanne to describe him some thirty years later as the first Impressionist. Within a year of his arrival, by 1870, his brushstroke had become looser and his palette more varied. All four of these artists began to show an increasing interest in light, color and atmosphere as they were related to the times of the day and the changing seasons. Pissarro describes himself at this time as feeling the elation of reaching a peak of discovery. As he wrote to his son Lucien in April 1895, "I remember that, although I was full of ardor, I didn't conceive, even at forty, the deeper side of the movement we followed instinctively. It was in the air!" (J. Rewald, ed., Letters to his son Lucien, New York, 1943, p. 265).
Christopher Lloyd and Anne Distel have written, "Stylistically, the first half of the 1870s is perhaps Pissarro's best known creative period, and the canvases painted [then] have been more readily appreciated than those painted at any other time in his whole career. The artist retains a firmly controlled geometric structure as the framework for his compositions, but he employs a lighter touch in his brushwork and a brighter palette, both of which show the influence of Monet, whose technique of freely applying broken, separate patches of pure pigment Pissarro approached closely at this time. The paintings dating from the opening years of the 1870s therefore may, like those of Monet and Renoir, with good reason be described as the most purely Impressionist in Pissarro's entire oeuvre" (Pissarro, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1980, p. 79).
The rural subject matter of La route de Versailles, Marly-le-Roi presages a critical shift in Pissarro's iconographical interests that would take place in 1874, two years after his return to Pontoise from Louveciennes. At this time, the sheer range of motifs that characterized his work from 1870-1873 gave way to a phase of intensive experimentation with peasant life and agricultural imagery, not only at L'Hermitage but also at Montfoucault (where his close friend Ludovic Piette lived) and, especially late in the decade, at Chaponval and Le Valhermeil, rural hamlets midway between Pontoise and Auvers. One impetus for this change was the advice of the eminent critic Théodore Duret, an ardent supporter of the Impressionists. In a letter dated December 1873, Duret encouraged Pissarro to concentrate on pastoral motifs: "I persist in thinking that nature, with its rustic fields and its animals, is that which corresponds best to your talent. You do not have the decorative feeling of Sisley, nor the fantastic eye of Monet, but you do have what they don't, an intimate and profound feeling for nature. If I have any advice to give you, I would tell you not to think of either Monet or Sisley; go your own way; in your path of rustic nature, you'll go into a new path, both as far and as high as any master" (quoted in R. Brettell, Pissarro and Pontoise, The Painted in a Landscape, London, 1990, p. 165). Pissarro took Duret's advice to heart, moving toward the role that he would occupy, at least intermittently, for the rest of his life, that of historien des champs.

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