WORKS FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION, SOLD IN PART TO BENEFIT TWO NOT-FOR-PROFIT INSTITUTIONS IN THE FIELDS OF SCIENCE AND MUSIC
During his years in Éragny, Pissarro would spend several months in more urban areas, from the boulevards of Paris to the bustling ports of Rouen and Le Havre and, occasionally, as far afield as London. He would see friends and dealers, meet new acquaintances and enjoy experiences diametrically opposed to his bucolic existence in Éragny. Inevitably he would return to the peace of the countryside, exhausted by his travels and with a renewed vigor that manifested in oils of his garden, the meadow in front of his house, the fields which surrounded him and the neighboring villages of Gisors and Bazincourt. It was both the landscape and the local people hard at work—harvesting, tending their animals, hawking their wares in the market—which continued to fascinate him (see figs. 2 & 3).
The critical and commercial success of Pissarro’s first major retrospective which was held at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris in January 1892 brought a new confidence and stability to his life. In 1893 he was sixty-three years old. One of the most prominent avant-garde painters of his generation, Pissarro had achieved enormous success as both an Impressionist and a Neo-Impressionist. Adjusting certain elements from his classic Impressionist period of the 1870s and combining them with characteristics of his Neo-Impressionist style of the 1880s meant that by the early 1890s Pissarro developed an entirely fresh approach to painting. In his review for the 1892 exhibition published in Le Figaro, the writer Octave Mirbeau described the artist’s visual concerns: “The eye of the artist, like the mind of the thinker, discovers the larger aspects of things, their wholeness and unity. Even when he paints figures in scenes of rustic life, man is always seen in perspective in the vast terrestrial harmony, like a human plant. To describe the drama of the earth and to move our hearts, M. Pissarro does not need violent gestures, complicated arabesques and sinister branches against livid skies…. An orchard, with its apple trees in rows, its brick houses in the background and some women under the trees, bending and gathering the apples which have fallen to the ground, and a whole life is evoked, a dream rises up, soars, and such a simple thing, so familiar to our eyes, transforms itself into an ideal vision, amplified and raised to a great decorative poetry” (quoted in R. E. Shikes & P. Harper, Pissarro: His Life and Work, New York, 1980, pp. 261-62).
Reflecting on his Éragny period as a whole, Joachim Pissarro, co-author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, has examined the serial effect of these landscapes between 1893 and 1903: “He did dozens of views of the meadows in front of the house: ‘In my view’, he wrote to Lucien [his son], ‘our meadow at Éragny is a marvel compared to everything else I see… I would go back to Éragny [just] to work on trees.’ These paintings are perhaps the largest body of work devoted to the same motif ever painted. Not until On Kawara in the late twentieth century would a series depicting ordinary, everyday time extend over whole decades like this. For time is in fact the subject—or rather the substance—of Pissarro’s Éragny works…. The series encompasses decades, not just weeks or months; and one of the most striking things about it is its perception of the impact of time on nature. In 1892, Pissarro painted a small group of works on the theme of a lone tree—a spreading walnut—standing amid a few saplings… Five years later, the saplings too had become trees [see fig. 4]…. Pissarro’s vast cycle of Éragny landscapes is one of the most ambitious bodies of art there is, yet one could almost sum it up in a single gesture repeated again and again, like a routine task performed heedless of the future. Gazing at the hundreds of paintings that compose it, spanning fifteen years or more, is a dizzying experience indeed” (J. Pissarro & C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro, Critical Catalogue of Paintings, vol. I, Paris, 2005, pp. 89-90).
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