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Camille Pissarro (Saint-Thomas 1830-1903 Paris)
A group of twenty drawings by Camille Pissarro executed in Venezuela Pissarro was born on 10 July 1830 in Charlotte Amélie, the capital of Saint-Thomas, then a Danish territory in the Virgin Islands. His family was of Jewish-Portugese origin and had moved from Bordeaux to Saint-Thomas just after the French Revolution. His father, who was born on the island, opened a shop selling goods imported from Europe and America. In 1842 Camille's parents sent the boy to France to a boarding school in Passy in order to further his education. The school was run by Monsieur Savary who gave Pissarro his first drawing lessons. When he left France in 1847, Savary gave the gifted boy a piece of advice, certainly involuntarily comical, to take 'advantage of his life in the Tropics by drawing coconut trees'. Back in Saint-Thomas the thriving artist went to work in his father's business but spent most of his time drawing. He met, probably at the dock running errands for his father, the young Danish artist Fritz Melbye (1826-1869) who had just returned from Venezuela. The two became friends and the slightly older painter pressed Pissarro to leave his parents' business and follow him back to Venezuela. Pissarro did not need much encouragement and discreetly ordered colors, paper, canvas and pencils. Without his parents' permission he soon left Saint-Thomas. The two friends arrived in the port of La Guyara in Venezuela on 12 November 1852. They probably stayed on the coast for some time before travelling to the capital Caracas in 1853. The following twenty drawings were done the year after, in 1854. The first drawing (lot 239) was executed in Caracas on Good Friday, on April 14, 1854. It depicts the Procession of the Virgin in front of the cathedral. The following lot, probably also drawn in Caracas, represents a street scene, similar to a drawing now in the museum of the City of Caracas. Lots 241-249 were drawn by Pissarro in Galipan. According to Alfredo Boulton, Pissarro went to Galipan during the rainy season in July 1854. Galipan was close to Caracas in the North in the Avila mountains. An inscription on lot 248 shows that Pissarro probably stayed there with the Stürup family. Pissarro had probably met Wilhelm Lauritz Stürup, a Dane who opened a pharmacy in Caracas in 1838, through Melbeye. In Galipan Pissarro probably took walks into the mountains, drawing views of the forest and of peasant scenes, such as the beautiful watercolors depicting A mother and her children in hut or Women by a house (lots 241 and 245). One of the most remarkable drawings Pissarro made in Galipan is the Card players (lot 248), which prefigures such works as Cezanne's painting of the same title. The composition was already known through a slightly different version in the Banco Central de Venezuela in Caracas. The last group of drawings in the sale is of interior and street scenes. Some of the interior scenes include portraits of women such as in lots 252 verso and 253. A number of the most interesting drawings Pissarro drew in Venezuela depict street musicians, a theme that he was particularly fond of at this period. Lot 252, of a peasant playing a small guitar and 258, a watercolor of two figures playing guitars in an interior, find parallels with the drawings in the Banco Central de Venezuela and the Museum in Caracas. In the middle of 1854 Pissarro's father and brother were eager for Camille return to Saint-Thomas, in order to help them run the business, a need which was made even more acute with the death of one of his brothers and the declining health of another. But Pissarro refused and instead asked his parents permission to return to Saint-Thomas just for a short period before leaving for Paris to become a painter. That permission was eventually granted and on 12 August 1854 Pissarro left La Guaya for Saint-Thomas, after nearly two years in Venezuela. The inscription in Spanish (Pissarro was fluent in French, Spanish and English) on the verso of lot 239 shows that not only had he left some close friends there, but also that he had the firm intention of going to Paris. His friend Rafael Harrena y Vegas wrote on the back of the Caracas Good Friday procession 'Pizarro: remember when you are in opulent Paris, city of pleasure, that you keep a true friend in our modest Venezuela, Caracas, August 4, 1854, Rafael Herrenas y Vegas'. Cézanne said of Pissarro 'he was lucky to be born in the Antilles; There he learnt drawing without a master' (quoted in Boulton, p. 72). This was only partly true: he was first formed in Passy by Savary, and then through his friendship with Melbye he found a style to emulate. The few drawings of Venezuela by Melbye in the Central Bank in Caracas show that although the Danish artist's technique is close to Pissarro's, black chalk applied often in close hatching, the French artist quickly surpassed him. He had a much better sense of volume, of distance and atmosphere. He also knew how to heighten his drawings lightly in pen when he returned to his studio in order to add a dramatic feeling, such as in the waterfall in Galipan (lot 246). Pissarro's watercolor technique is also infinitely better than Melbye's. Pissarro's experience in Venezuela proved not only a liberating influence to his art but also to his life, as he later wrote 'In Saint-Thomas I was a well paid shop assistant but I could not bear that situation much longer and without really thinking I abandoned everything I owned there and fled to Caracas. In doing so I broke all ties to bourgeois life'. Three other large groups of drawings of Venezuela by Pissarro are extant: the first is in the Museo de Bellas Arte in Caracas, but comes originally from Hélène Pillement in Paris, the second is in the Banco Central de Venezuela, originally from the collection of Cyrus McCormick in New York, and the last is in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, given by the artist's son Lucien. All information contained in the preceding text and in the following notes is drawn from: J. Rewald, Camille Pissarro in Venezuela, New York, 1964. A. Boulton, Camille Pissarro en Venezuela, Caracas, 1966. R. Soler, Camille Pissarro au Venezuela, exhib. cat., Paris, Venezuelan Embassy, 1978.
Camille Pissarro (Saint-Thomas 1830-1903 Paris)

The Good Friday procession outside the Cathedral of Caracas, with a subsidiary study of the Virgin and a woman's head

Details
Camille Pissarro (Saint-Thomas 1830-1903 Paris)
The Good Friday procession outside the Cathedral of Caracas, with a subsidiary study of the Virgin and a woman's head
inscribed and dated 'Procession du Vendredi Saint a Caracas en face de la cathhdrale' [14 April 1854] (recto) and with inscription 'Pizaro: recuerda cuendo eatis en la opulen ta Paris, la ciudad de los plaseres que tienes en la desgracia Venezuela un verdadero Caracos Agostoa 4 de 1854. Rafael Harrena y Vegas' (verso)
black lead, pen and brown ink
8 x 11½ in. (203 x 260 mm.)

Lot Essay

A drawing of the Cathedral of Caracas is in the Public Library at Charlotte Amélie on Saint-Thomas (Boulton, p. 17).
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