This was a far more pleasurable trip than Pissarro’s first visit to the city in the early 1870s, where he and his family fled during the Franco-Prussian war. Staying, over the course of six months, in various residences in Upper and Lower Norwood, his fourteen paintings from early 1871 remain remarkably close in tone and style to those executed at Louveciennes both before and immediately after his time in London, save for a charming view of the Crystal Palace, now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Primrose Hill, Londres and the other five paintings from his 1890 trip bear a brighter and more uplifting tone than the 1871 pictures, celebrating the splendid vistas found around the city.
Pissarro would return to London in 1892 to oversee the marriage of his son Lucien. Taking a flat by Kew Gardens, he produced nine canvases, eight of which detail the delights found in that great park, with little thought or indication of the nearby city. A last stay in 1897, associated with Lucien’s sudden illness, led to a further seven paintings, geographically tied closely to his son’s residence by Bedford Park in West London.
Just to the north of Regent’s Park sits Primrose Hill. Originally a part of the ancient Middlesex forest, the land passed into the hands of Barking Abbey. The Dissolution of the Catholic Church under the rule of Henry VIII saw vast swaths of land and various other properties, that had for centuries been owned by the Church, come under the control of the King and his government. This acreage became a hunting park for Henry VIII and various other rulers including Elizabeth I, and aside from the brief Republic under Cromwell, has remained a property of the Crown ever since. It was not until an Act of Parliament in 1842 that Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park were set aside as a preserved space open to the public. Describing this location and the present work Joachim Pissarro & Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts have written: “Primrose Hill Park lies to the north of Regent’s Park, across the Grand Union Canal and Prince Albert Road. The artist began this composition in London in 1890 and finished it in his studio at Éragny, as evidenced from the following letter to his son Lucien, dated 26 April 1892: ‘I […] managed to complete […] my Primrose Hill London Park; I think these paintings have gained a lot from the standpoint of unity; what a difference compared to the studies! I’m more than ever in favor of the recollected impression’” (ibid., p. 585).
Several of Pissarro’s paintings from this visit were begun en plein air in their respective locations and completed a year or so later in his studio at Éragny, while others such as Le Pont de Charing Cross, Londres and Kensington Gardens, Londres were sketched on site but painted entirely after the artist had left England, using his studies as reference and occasionally correspondence with his relatives to confirm specific depicted details such as the location of a church tower or column.
Primrose Hill, Londres has a distinguished provenance. Acquired directly from Pissarro by his dealer Durand-Ruel in 1892, the work remained with that family until 1921 when it entered the collection of Gabrielle Oppenheim-Errera. Gabrielle Errera married Paul Oppenheim, a noted businessman and philosopher of science, in 1912. They settled in Frankfurt until 1933 when they fled first to her birthplace of Brussels and then to the United States where they lived in Princeton, New Jersey. Close friends with Albert Einstein, they regularly hosted him in their home during his Princeton-based years. Gabrielle Oppenheim-Errera lived to the great age of 105. Primrose Hill, Londres remained in her collection for over seventy-five years.
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