Painted in 1893, the radiant Vue de Bazincourt, inondation, soleil couchant possesses a harmonious balance between Pissarro’s exacting Neo-Impressionist style and the lyrical Post-Impressionist aesthetic that defined the latter, mature part of his œuvre.
In 1884 Pissarro moved to the village of Éragny-sur-Epte and the rich surrounding countryside would prove a source of inspiration for much of the rest of his career. His first years there are associated with his short but important engagement with the Neo-Impressionist movement (fig. 1). A younger generation of artists, which included Paul Signac and Georges Seurat – whom Pissarro first met in 1885 – sought to reinterpret perception as a ‘physiological and psychological process that took place between the picture and the viewer’ (Christoph Becker in Camille Pissarro (exhibition catalogue), Ostfildern-Ruit, 1999, p. 102). They began painting ‘using spots of unmixed colours, which were dotted individually over the almost white ground, creating the impression of a shimmering pictorial surface’ (ibid.). This scientific approach to the application of colour placed the emphasis on the act of viewing. Having embraced this innovative method of working Pissarro produced some of his most striking canvases, distinct in their luminosity and matchless in the skillful rendering of the various weather and atmospheric effects (fig. 2).
Yet, even during his closest collaboration with the Neo-Impressionists, Pissarro often found their methods of working too restrictive and methodical. Their studio-based approach to work was very much the opposite of both the Impressionists’ painting en plein air and their affinity to nature. Following Seurat’s death in 1891 – which for Pissarro signified the unofficial end of the movement itself – the artist gradually distanced himself from the Neo-Impressionists and adopted an approach that both in feeling and technique was once again much more in tune with Impressionism. Vue de Bazincourt, inondation, soleil couchant is a superb example of a work produced during this period, when Pissarro’s earlier experiments brought a more mature and refined sensibility to his œuvre.
The subject of the present work – the church steeple of the neighbouring Bazincourt viewed across the Epte from Pissarro’s home – was one the artist returned to repeatedly during this period, painting it in a huge variety of seasons, weather conditions and times of day (figs. 3-5). In their varied and animated brushwork, these works exude Pissarro’s enjoyment of working, once again, directly in nature, which he openly expressed in a letter to his son: ‘[…] it felt so good to me to work outdoors again. It has been two years since I last attempted this adventure’ (quoted in Camille Pissarro: Impressionist Innovator (exhibition catalogue), Israel Musuem, Jerusalem, 1994, p. 172).
The motif of the flood made regular appearances in Pissarro’s compositions during this period. Like his contemporary Claude Monet (fig. 6), it offered Pissarro exciting new possibilities for exploring the relationships of colour and light. A further distinct feature of these works is their lively palette; this is particularly noticeable in the present composition where the light of the setting sun is captured in rich pinks, yellows and oranges. As Joachim Pissarro notes, the artist, ‘retained […] a few constructive elements from the Neo-Impressionist interlude, among them a high-pitched palette of colours consisting of rather vibrant hues. The purples, Venice blue, crimson, pinks, and bright, almost fluorescent yellowy greens are a hallmark of Pissarro’s paintings of 1891-93’ (quoted in ibid.).
Christoph Becker has aptly remarked that the landscapes from this period reveal ‘the depth of their quiet charm over a period of time, as though the artist wanted somehow to transfer his own, persistent observation onto the viewer’ (C. Becker, op. cit., p. 106). In its subtlety, refinement and technical prowess Vue de Bazincourt, inondation, soleil couchant firmly occupies its place within what can be undoubtedly described as the peak of Pissarro’s creative maturity.