During the years spent in Eragny, Pissarro liked to alternate between urban and rural scenes. He often went to harbour cities like Rouen and Le Havre, to Paris where he met with friends as well as dealers, and to London, where he was visiting his sons. Exhausted by frequent travels, the artist would return to the peace of Eragny, where he took joy in painting the garden and the meadow in front of his house, as well as the neighbouring villages of Gisors and Bazincourt. Henceforth, Eragny became the focal point of Pissarro’s art, and as Joachim Pissarro has observed: ‘His representations of these fields and gardens constitute the most spectacularly intense pictorial effort to ‘cover’ a particular given space in his career’ (J. Pissarro, Camille Pissarro, London, 1993, p. 225).
Included in the eighth and final official Impressionist exhibition in 1886 under the title Plein soleil, the present work introduced the new neo-Impressionist divisionist style that Pissarro would develop over the following years. Critical reception of the Eighth Impressionist exhibition identified a stylistic turning of the tides in the paintings of some of the participants, including those of Pissarro and newcomers Seurat and Signac. Pissarro's paintings elicited generous praise, particularly for his glorious renderings of agricultural labour. ‘Here are fields, real fields,’ marvelled George Auriol in response to Paysannes ramassant des herbes, Eragny. ‘Here are people working in the fields!’ (reprinted in J. Pissarro & C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., p. 546). A more detailed criticism by Marcel Fouquier of the style of this composition was equally glowing: ‘Bright Sunshine [the present work] and Meadows at Bazincourt in the Morning (ibid., no. 792) are paintings that possess great character and the profound charm of nature and poetry. The brushwork is remarkable. M. Pissarro paints with small, distinct, precise touches and subtle and penetrating juxtapositions of pure tones. His canvases are so dotted that from up close they are like a collection of diversely coloured nail heads, but when viewed from the right distance, a perspective is established, the planes gain depth, and, the sky being handled with a deliberate lightness, and impression of vast space and an indefinite horizon is produced’ (ibid., p. 521).
In Pissarro’s opinion, Impressionism was already over in 1883, and it was at this time that he embraced the Neo-Impressionist technique, under the influence of Seurat, who proclaimed Pissarro to be the first of the Impressionist painters to convert to the Neo-Impressionist style. Pissarro and Seurat were developing the pointillist technique independently of each other, and when they finally met in 1885, they were keen to exchange ideas on colour theories and scientific research into the nature and effect of colour. The present work is a stunning example of Pissarro’s own version of pointillism, using short, fragmented brushstrokes to create vivid colour contrasts and captures the dazzling effect of bright sunshine. Whilst he adopted this technique with an assured manner, he did not apply it with the doctrinary vigour of Seurat, and he retained his interest in exploring the nuances of light and atmospheric changes, a legacy of his earlier Impressionist style.
Shown in New York in 1887, the year after it was painted, Paysannes ramassant des herbes, Eragny was one of the first of the artist's works to be exhibited in the United States, introducing the American audience to the most current stylistic transformations occurring in Paris at the time.
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