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Julie Pissarro épluchant des légumes

Julie Pissarro épluchant des légumes
signed and dated 'C. Pissarro 78' (lower right)
oil on canvas
18 1⁄8 x 21 3⁄4 in. (46.3 x 55.6 cm.)
Painted in 1878
Charles Deudon, Nice (acquired from the artist, 1878 and until 1914).
André Seligman, New York.
(possibly) Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners, by circa 1950.
J. Bailly-Herzberg, Correspondance de Camille Pissarro, 1865-1885, Paris, 1980, vol. I, p. 130, no. 74.
J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro: Catalogue critique des peintures, Paris, 2005, vol. II, pp. 377-378, no. 549 (illustrated in color, p. 377).

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Lot Essay

Julie Pissarro épluchant des légumes represents the charming, yet humble subject matter for which Camille Pissarro is best known. Seated amid a sun-dappled, flower-filled garden, the present work depicts Julie Pissarro, the artist’s wife, at their home in Pontoise, north-west of Paris. Peeling vegetables, she is flanked by a lush flower bed, bordered by a rickety fence, which contains a thick pink rose bush in full bloom. Pissarro lived in this picturesque town with his family from 1866 to 1868, and again after the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War, from 1872 until 1882. The agrarian countryside surrounding Pontoise provided endless inspiration for Pissarro’s sweeping landscape and more intimate figurative paintings; he returned again and again to those fertile fields, grassy hills, agricultural workers and rural homes. Indeed, Pissarro established a professional reputation around this picturesque theme.
Pissarro’s Pointose period coincided with a critical phase of the artist’s career. This decade saw the formation of the Impressionist circle, an independent group of artists who exhibited together in Paris. Pissarro was a vocal advocate for, and the most consistent participant in, these group shows; he submitted significant bodies of work to each of the eight Impressionist exhibitions that took place between 1874 and 1886. Julie Pissarro épluchant des légumes was painted in 1878, the interim year between the third exhibition of 1877 and the fourth of 1879. By this time, Pissarro had developed his distinctive painterly style that is much looser in brushwork and brighter in color than his tighter, earthier, Realist pictures of the 1860s.
The subject of this painting, Julie Pissarro, e Vellay, was the artist’s wife and the mother of his eight children. Julie had been hired by Pissarro’s family as a kitchen maid in 1860. Pissarro’s bourgeois Jewish parents were dismayed when the artist initiated a lifelong affair with Julie, a working-class Catholic woman from rural Burgundy; they promptly dismissed her from the household. Julie found employment as a florist’s assistant and gave birth to the artist’s first child, in 1863. The artist married Julie in 1871 after the birth of their third child. Pissarro painted her numerous times, imagining her absorbed in various quiet domestic activities—sewing, reading, shelling peas, or peeling vegetables. Julie’s training with a florist no doubt engendered an interest in flowers and plants; she later cultivated a kitchen garden to offset the family’s ongoing financial burdens.
This work was purchased from the artist in 1878 by Charles Deudon, a wealthy collector of modern art. While living in Paris, Deudon acquired several important works by avant-garde artists between 1878 and 1882, including two paintings now in the collection of The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.: Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Danseuse of 1874, and Edouard Manet’s La Prune, painted circa 1877. After Deudon’s death in 1914, his widow sold his small but important collection, which included Julie Pissarro épluchant des légumes.
Pissarro’s sale of the present work to Deudon was facilitated by his friend, the art critic Théodore Duret. Pissarro had previously confided in Duret his desperation for buyers—particularly between 1875 and 1879, when the Impressionists’ dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, was himself in need of funds and sold no works on Pissarro’s behalf. Pissarro wrote to Duret in August 1878: “I have many difficulties to surmount…and no sales in sight, a deathly silence hangs over art… Anyway, what need is there for art, you can’t eat it, can you?” (quoted in J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., vol. I, p. 17). A few months later, Duret arranged Pissarro’s transaction with Deudon. Pissarro wrote to Duret in gratitude in November 1878:
“I went several times to M. Deudon’s house and, as usual, I didn’t have the benefit of meeting him. Having nevertheless made up his mind to buy [Julie Pissarro épluchant des légumes], he has sent me the agreed amount by post. I thank you deeply for helping me make this sale” (quoted in ibid., vol. II, p. 377, no. 549).
Duret was indeed a passionate defender of the Impressionists, and of Pissarro’s work in particular. In 1878, the same year the present work was painted, Duret published Les peintres impressionnistes: Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir, Berthe Morisot, in which he wrote: “Yes, I like and admire the art of the Impressionists and I have taken up my pen precisely to explain the reasons for that liking…Pissarro is the Impressionist in whose work we find, in the most pronounced manner, the point of view of purely naturalistic painters… Pissarro’s canvases convey to the highest degree a sensation of space and solitude” (quoted in ibid., vol. I, p. 157). Julie Pissarro épluchant des légumes certainly portrays the beauty, serenity and dignity of rural life—the theme that would move Pissarro to paint for the rest of his career.

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