Camille Pissarro began Briqueterie Delafolie à Eragny in 1886, only one year after he had been introduced to Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. Both of these younger artists were then working in the pointillist style, which Seurat had developed between 1881 and 1883. After this meeting, Pissarro slowly adopted the pointillist method, and thus Briqueterie Delafolie à Eragny occupies an important transitional position in his stylistic development. The sharp decrease in Pissarro's output between 1886 and 1890, brought about by the increased length of time that the artist needed to execute pointillist pictures where colors cannot be applied wet-in-wet, makes this painting rare within Pissarro's body of work. As Pissarro wrote to his son Lucien, "I almost finished my sunset, Briqueterie, I am still working on it, the sky is completed but I am going slowly; the other canvases which are less advanced are also progressing" (J. Rewald, op. cit., p. 131). Briqueterie Delafolie à Eragny was once in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California, and other important paintings from this year are also in museum collections, such as Vue de ma fenêtre, Eragny (fig. 1) and Printemps à Eragny (J. Pissarro, no. 820; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art).
The pointillist method generally used smalls dot of paint in contrasting and complementary colors to maximize intensity of light, employing scientific theories based partially on Ogden Rood's Théorie scientifique des couleurs, 1881. While Pissarro was interested in theories of color and paint application, pointillism also appealed to his own stylistic development at the time. In the late 1870s, he had already been working with smaller, more regular brushstrokes, a more narrow color range applied in separate patches of unmixed pigments, and more monumental, controlled compositions. A good example is L'arc en ciel, Pontoise of 1877, whose sweeping vista is depicted with deftly placed brushstrokes in pure colors (J. Pissarro, no. 495; Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller).
In Briqueterie Delafolie à Eragny, Pissarro moves further towards a pointillist style, characterized by the clarity of its composition and intense luminosity. The glowing field, composed primarily of pure greens and yellows, rises up to meet the flushed sunset sky, with trees drawing the viewer's eye to the middle ground. The lengthy shadows cast by the man, horse, and barn indicate the approaching evening, giving the impression of a peaceful end to a productive summer day. However, Briqueterie does not yet adhere as closely to the basic principles of pointillism as paintings that Pissarro began and completed in 1888 such as La Seine à Rouen, l'île Lacroix, effet de brouillard (fig. 2). Indeed, Pissarro's brushwork was never as scientific or regular as the other pointillists, and as Joachim Pissarro, the artist's great-grandson, noted, "a glance at Pissarro's Neo-Impresionist works is enough to convince one of the enormous variety of treatment used throughout" (J. Pissarro, 1993, op. cit., p. 217).
Pissarro painted Briqueterie Delafolie à Eragny while he was living at Eragny-sur-Epte in Normandy. Although he kept a studio in Paris, Pissarro preferred to live in more rural areas throughout his life, and he moved to Eragny-sur-Epte in 1884, renting and then buying a large house and converting the barn into a studio. A rural scene with a great expanse of earth and sky, Briqueterie Delafolie à Eragny evokes, as did much art at the end of the 19th century, the beauty of the land in the face of rapid industrialization, and agricultural mechanism. Yet this painting also specifically shows the Delafolie brickyard, and a lone worker stands near his horse. Linda Nochlin connected Pissarro's choice of themes to his progressively more radical politics; by 1890, he was a firmly committed anarchist. Speaking specifically of female figures, Nochlin noted that while his peasants are in nature, they are not completely identified with it and are also not overtly sentimentalized (L. Nochin, "Camille Pissarro: The Unassuming Eye" The Politics of Vision, New York, 1989, p. 66). Although the worker in Briqueterie Delafolie à Eragny is far from the viewer and blends somewhat with the landscape, Pissarro's figures of this time can be tied to both his interest in an anarchic utopia and to his relatively realistic, less romantic view of modern life and its conditions. Another example is Vue de ma fenêtre, Eragny. In this painting, a young woman works at the bottom left of the scene, yet does not seem overwhelmed by or conflated with her surroundings (fig. 1).
Pissarro was particularly interested in country scenes, but the other pointillists also painted landscapes. For example, while Seurat's ultimate ambition was to paint monumental figure compositions, he also painted numerous seascapes at Honfleur, Normandy during the summer of 1886, such as L'hospice et le phare de Honfleur, which is also a sunset (fig. 3). He wrote to Signac at this time: "Let's go get drunk on the light once more, that's a consolation" (quoted in R.L. Herbert, Georges Seurat, 1859-1891, exh. cat. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991, p. 238).
Several of Pissarro's pointillist canvases were shown in the eighth and final Impressionist Exhibition in 1886. Pissarro also encouraged Seurat and Signac to exhibit at this show, triggering dissention within the old Impressionist guard and possibly causing Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and Caillebotte to abstain from exhibiting. The loss of these artists allowed the new pointillist paintings, particularly Seurat's Un dimanche après-midi à l'Ile de la Grande Jatte (1884-6; Art Institute of Chicago), to steal the show. Félix Fénéon wrote in a review, "The atmosphere [of La Grande Jatte] is transparent and singularly vibrant; the surface seem to flicker. Perhaps this sensation, which is also experienced in front of other such paintings in the room, can be explained by the theory of [Heinrich-Wilhelm] Dove: the retina, expecting distinct groups of light rays to act upon it, perceives in very rapid alternation both the dissociated colored elements and their resultant color" (quoted in L. Nochlin, ed. Impressionism and Post-impressionism, 1874-1904: Sources and Documents. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1966, p. 110). Pissarro also showed his pointillist paintings with the progressive exhibition group Les XX in Brussels.
Pissarro is also well known as a teacher and advisor to other painters and was particularly influential on Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. In the 1906, the year that Cézanne died, he still referred to himself as Pissarro's pupil in an exhibition catalogue in Aix-en-Provence. He also referred to Pissarro as "God the Father" and said, "We all stem from Pissarro" (quoted in M. Brion, Cézanne, New York, 1974, p. 26). Picasso later declared, "Cezanne was my one and only master. It was the same with all of us--he was like our father. It was he who protected us" (quoted in J. Richardson, A life of Picasso.vol. 2, New York, 1991, p. 52). This lineage is not often remarked upon, but is not surprising to those who are aware of Pissarro's unwavering commitment to the avant-garde. As the critic Thadée Natanson noted, "Nothing of novelty or of excellence appeared that Pissarro had not been among the first, if not the very first, to discern and to defend" (quoted in C. Lloyd, "Pissarro, Camille,"Dictionary of Art, vol. 24, New York, 1996, p. 878).
(fig. 1) Camille Pissarro, Vue de ma fenêtre, Eragny, 1886. Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology, Oxford. BARCODE 25240351
(fig. 2) Camille Pissarro, La Seine à Rouen, l'île Lacroix, effet de brouillard, 1888. Philadelphia Museum of Art. BARCODE 25240344
(fig. 3) Georges Seurat, L'hospice et le phare de Honfleur, 1886. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. BARCODE 25240337