Les cordonniers represents a stage in Pissarro's work which evinced a new interest in colour, composition and texture. The detailed attention to colour and texture seen in the present work was well represented at the 7th Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in 1882 in which Pissarro exhibited thirty-six works.
During the three years leading up to the 1882 exhibition Pissarro developed an almost feathery technique which led him to dissect light and saturate his work with fresh bright colours. This work belongs to that formative period. Commenting on Pissarro's experiments of the late 1870s Joel Isaacson has written: 'Most striking in the formal sense is the elaboration of fine-grained multi-hued colour application and distribution, the result in good part of an enlivening interest in colour theory. The complex build up of small, irregular strokes yielded increasingly a heavily-textured granular surface that attested to the long deliberation that went into the execution of each painting, a factor further indicated by the decrease, beginning in 1880, in the number of paintings he produced each year' (The New Painting, Impressionism 1874-1886, San Francisco, 1986, p. 386). That Pissarro achieved this technique in oil was impressive, that he was able to achieve the same bright, fresh, and highly textured finish in pastel was extraodinary and rare.
In common with Jeune paysanne prenant son café (fig. 1), exhibited at the 1882 exhibition, Les cordonniers, although in pastel, shares the same compositional structure, textured surface and use of light. In both works Pissarro uses the play of light entering from a window on the left to unite the figures with their surroundings and in the present work, with each other. Using a consistent textural treatment combined with the broad forms of the figures, Pissarro flattens space and creates a decorative image. Structurally Pissarro uses a rectilinear organization introducing several repeated verticals to provide compositional stability, which he has emphasised in the present work by the chair and the horizonal line of the cordonniers' left arm. As with the curve of the peasant women in Jeune paysanne prenant son café, the curves of the cordonnier's bodies in the present work are set against the space of the room disguising their angled recession.
Both Jeune paysanne prenant son café and Les cordonniers well illustrate Pissarro's feeling for mood and structure which perhaps made Jeune paysanne prenant son café the most popular of the artist's entries in the 1882 exhibition and the present work an important and accomplished pastel; all the more impressive for its excellent state of preservation.