Camille Pissarro was arguably the most complex of all the Impressionists. He was the only artist of that loosely defined group to exhibit at all eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886, and he even drew up the provisional charter at the outset, yet the diversity of styles with which he experimented during that time was also perhaps the most wide-ranging. Painted in the same year as his first one-man show, this stunning view of haystacks in late afternoon sun reveals some of the important stylistic shifts that his work underwent in the early 1880s.
As Christopher Lloyd and Anne Distel note of his work from this period: “Regarding the compositions, there is less emphasis on recession and spatial depth. The basic elements—foreground, middle distance and background—tend to be flattened, so that the design reads upwards as a series of horizontal bands” (Camille Pissarro, 1830-1903 (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London, 1980, p. 116). The tessellating triangular sections of the present work demonstrate this new departure; the winding road that often leads the viewer’s eye to the vanishing point in Pissarro’s earlier work is absent, and a traditional aerial view or any sense of height is replaced by a modern sense of spatial ambiguity.
His technique evolved in favor of small, evenly distributed and heavily loaded brushstrokes, anticipating his association with the Neo-Impressionists in the second half of the 1880s. The parallel brushstrokes in the fields and the haystacks of the present work combined with the vibrancy of the palette creates an iridescent effect that is highly characteristic of this period, though it is easy to forget that divisionism was still unchartered territory for many artists of the avant-garde and he was well ahead of his contemporaries in this regard, boldly exploring the individuated dashes of color that created these arresting effects.
Self-doubts about the direction of his art are movingly recorded in his letters, and in view of the vigorous analysis to which he subjected his work there is little doubt that these effects were deliberately sought. Nor can there be any doubt as to their sensational impact. In 1887 a landscape by Pissarro was temporarily removed from a Georges Petit exhibition on account of someone being offended by its luminosity—testament to just how radical his paintings appeared at the time—and the present glorious view is among the most luminous to appear on the open market. Paysage avec meules, Osny prefigures the celebrated series which Claude Monet painted in 1891 neighboring Giverny, but whereas Monet’s composition is tightly focused, Pissarro painted a more expansive scene, giving the viewer a broad perspective of the terrain beyond (see fig. 1).
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