The Cummer Museum: Camille Pissarro, Les Glaneuses
The history of an influential artist
One of the prominent pieces in The Cummer’s permanent collection is Les Glaneuses (The Gleaners) by Camille Pissarro. This study of The Gleaners depicts two groups of women gleaning across an open field. Gleaners would collect leftover grain after the farmers completed their harvest, a dreary and exhausting process that provided work for the poor and hungry denizens.
In this study, Pissarro makes visible his grid lines and preliminary sketches. He uses gouache, charcoal, crayon and watercolor to illustrate rolling hills, trees, and the hard-working gleaners. He used this study for the final oil painting, also titled The Gleaners.
Camille Pissarro, circa 1900
Pissarro (1830-1903) was born in the West Indies on the island of St. Thomas, a major port between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Born to a French-Portuguese merchant and a Creole woman, Pissaro was sent to a boarding school in Passy at age 12 where he took his first lessons in painting.
Returning to St. Thomas in 1847, Pissarro worked as a clerk in his father’s store and drew at the harbor whenever he found time. Five years later, forsaking his father’s business, he sailed with a Danish painter, Fritz Melbye, to Caracas to paint. In 1855, his father agreed to send him back to Paris to study art, and he worked at both the École des Beaux-Arts and the more informal Académie Suisse, where he met Monet.
Pissarro was particularly interested in the works of Courbet and Corot, whom he visited several times seeking advice. Corot allowed Pissarro to list him as his teacher in the catalogue of his first Salon exhibitions in 1864 and 1865. In 1863, he participated in the Salon des Refusées with three paintings, and in the mid-1860s he lived with members of the nascent Impressionist movement at Pontoise and Louveciennes.
In 1870, at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Pissarro and Monet met again in London, where they were received enthusiastically by Durand-Ruel, who exhibited their work in his London gallery and later in Paris.
Camille Pissarro with wife Julie Valley
When Pissarro returned to France after the war, he found that his studio had been ravaged by the Prussians and much of his work destroyed. In 1872, he settled at Pontoise, where he was soon joined by Cézanne. Pissarro introduced Cézanne to plein-air painting, the act of painting outdoors, and the two artists worked frequently together (as also did Gauguin).
At the same time, he absorbed Cézanne’s solid sense of composition. Abandoning the official salon, he participated in the first independent showing of the Impressionists in 1874 and remained the most loyal member of the group, contributing to all the subsequent exhibitions.
In 1884, Pissarro came in contact with Seurat and Signac. He experimented with their divisionist techniques from about 1886 to 1890, but gradually abandoned them as too rigid. Returning to a freer brushstroke, he retained the fresh, pure color of the divisionists and devoted himself to new subjects. From 1895 the worsening of his vision forced him to give up working en plein air, and he painted many town views from windows in Paris. He died blind in 1903.
Written by Amy L. Chamberlin, associate director of marketing at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
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