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Camille Pissarro (1831-1903)
Camille Pissarro (1831-1903)

La rcolte des pommes de terre

Camille Pissarro (1831-1903)
Pissarro, C.
La rcolte des pommes de terre
signed and dated 'C. Pissarro 1885' (lower left)
gouache on silk laid down on board
8 x 7.7/8 in. (21.2 x 20 cm.)
Painted in 1885
Bergengren Collection, Lund, Sweden.
L. R. Pissarro and L. Venturi, Camille Pissarro son art--son oeuvre, Paris, 1939, vol. I, p. 274, no. 1397 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. 1397).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, L'Oeuvre de C. Pissarro, April 1904, no. 155.
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Fem Sekler Fransk Konst, August-November 1958, p. 185, no. 274.

Lot Essay

By 1886, the year of the eighth and final group exhibition of the Artistes indpendants, Impressionism had arrived at a crossroads. After more than ten years of struggling for critical recognition and some measure of popular success, the artists were beginning to enjoy the first modest fruits of their accomplishments. Perhaps it was inevitable that the cohesion of the group would suffer as a result; in any case, the artists began to diverge widely in their approaches to painting, and the major Impressionists each sought to renew their art independently of the others.

Like many of his colleagues, Pissarro was also unsure of what direction he might take. At this critical juncture a signal event occurred--in 1885 Pissarro met Paul Signac in Guillaumin's Paris studio, and in October of that year Guillaumin introduced Pissarro to Georges Seurat at Galerie Durand-Ruel. Seurat and Signac were roughly the same age as Pissarro's son Lucien, who was also a painter, and the older man was easily drawn into this youthful circle, which represented the next generation of Impressionists. If Pissarro was uncertain how he might develop his art at this stage, these new friendships settled the issue. "Pissarro gained a new outlook and discovered the constructive element for which he had been searching. He found in their theories the scientific means to guide his perceptions and replace his instinctive approach to nature by a rigorous observation of the laws of colors and contrasts" (J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 4th rev. ed., 1973, p. 511).

The painterly means devised to record these observations was divisionism, the application of pure pigment in small pointillist brushstrokes which the viewer's eye would mix optically to recreate the effects of light in nature. By 1885 Pissarro had already arrived at a painterly technique that stood at the brink of this new development, and the theories of the younger men helped to guide him over the threshold into what would become known as Neo-Impressionism. Seurat had painted the first version of Un dimanche la Grande Jatte in a pre-divisionist manner and had largely completed it by March 1885. Having finally arrived at pointillism early the following year, he completely repainted the composition, which, at Pissarro's insistence, was included in the 1886 Artistes indpendants group exhibition. Pissarro also painted his first pointillist canvases in early 1886, and seeing these Signac adopted the technique as well. "And with characteristic modesty Pissarro insisted, 'It is M. Seurat, an artist of great merit, who was the first to conceive the idea and to apply scientific theory after having made thorough studies. I have merely followed his lead....'"(quoted in ibid., p. 514).

The present gouache shows how close Pissarro's technique had come to divisionism before this technique was perfected and utilized by the Neo-Impressionists. The artist uses small commas of color, sometimes pure from the tube or with a small amount of white added; the viewer's eye mixes the adjacent tones to create a lively and luminous surface. In the distance cool tones of blue and green predominate, with the addition of some warm accents to enliven the color; in the foreground the contrasts are more abrupt, which enrich the tone of this shaded area. Whereas the artist's gouaches of the early 1880s are characterized by a looser, more lyrical application of paint, the present work displays firmer contours and solid silhouettes, and a more classical feeling for volume, qualities which the artist further developed in his Neo-Impressionist paintings.

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