The Pissarro family is acknowledged as the longest dynasty of artists in the history of Western art. Beginning with legendary Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, the family tree of creatives spans five generations and over one hundred years of incredible artistic output. Including a wide variety of styles, subjects and media, this family tree has had a lasting influence on the history of art. We have been lucky enough to acquire a plethora of Pissarro works, and we are delighted to share them with you alongside an exploration of the family’s rich history.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
An incredibly pivotal figure in Impressionist art, Camille Pissarro is considered by many to be the “founding father” of this artistic movement. Born in the Virgin Islands, he had an early fascination with French art. He traveled to Paris in 1855, determined to become a painter. He trained under Camille Corot, who was a major influence on his early work. After years of study, Camille’s work greatly impressed none other than a young Claude Monet. Over the next two decades, their work closely intertwined as they developed the techniques and theories of Impressionism.
This piece is an incredible example of early Impressionism. Painted early in Camille Pissarro’s career in 1872, the landscape reveals the artist’s fascination with capturing modern-day France. The painting allows the viewer to observe Pissarro’s early experimentation with Impressionism through nuances of atmosphere, light and shadow, and brushstroke.
Camille Pissarro’s influence extended far beyond his paintings; he was also a natural-born teacher. His pupil, Mary Cassatt, once said that he could have taught a rock to draw correctly. His ability to experiment, implement and teach his colleagues this new style ensured the survival and success of the Impressionist movement. He was not only the father figure of the incredible Pissarro dynasty, but also many of his fellow painters of the time. Paul Cezanne once wrote to a friend, “As for old Pissarro, he was like a father to me. He was a man to be consulted, rather like God.”
Georges Henri Manzana Pissarro (1871-1961)
Georges Henri, the third of seven of Camille’s children, learned much from his father. Due to the prestige the family name had already built, Georges Henri spent much of his adolescent life surrounded by household names of the Impressionist movement, such as Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir. These influences caused the bulk of the artist’s early work to be steeped in the Impressionist style, as we can see in his series of landscapes in the French countryside. However, works from his later career exhibit a departure from these early influences as he began to lean further into the influence of Paul Gauguin, especially his pieces composed during his time in Tahiti and Martinique. Like many second-generation Pissarro artists, Georges started working under an assumed name, “Manzana,” the family name of his maternal grandmother.
This beautiful piece is exemplary of Manzana’s incredible output of work. With clear nods to the Impressionist movement through brushstroke and color, the oil on panel also demonstrates influences of Gauguin’s time in Tahiti. Manzana depicts the woman in the foreground in the traditional costume of Brittany, a region of North-West France that the artist frequented. Like the others, this particular piece is currently on display at M.S. Rau’s Pissarro exhibition.
Paulémile Pissarro (1881-1948)
The fifth and youngest son of Camille Pissarro, Paulémile showed great skill as an artist even as a child. Godson of Claude Monet, he became a highly established neo-impressionist painter by the 1920s. While his older brother was influenced by Paul Gauguin’s work, Paulémile followed the influence of Paul Cezanne as evidenced by the artist’s lush, green-gold compositions. Cezanne also inspired Paulémile to rely on palette knives for paint application instead of brushes, resulting in a thicker and bolder texture. He also had a great interest in the decorative arts as a designer of textiles and laces.
H. Claude Pissarro (b.1935)
Son of Paulémile, H. Claude has a similar upbringing as his father. Keeping the artistic legacy of the Pissarro family alive, H. Claude was taught to paint informally at home by his father. He exhibited a talent for art at an early age, and his predecessors were eager to observe the artwork he produced. To his family’s joy, he excelled in the impressionist style. However, H. Claude also honed his skill in a wide breadth of styles, such as abstract, minimalist and conceptual work. His early exposure to the art world also resulted in the artist’s experimentation with a variety of art media, such as engraving, lithography and publishing.
Orovida Pissarro (1893-1968)
Granddaughter of Camille Pissarro, Orovida Pissarro was born in Britain on October 8, 1893. Primarily living in London, the artist did not have the same French influences that were the basis for many of her creative family members’ careers. Her early work saw a departure from Impressionism, although it was against her father’s wishes, as she was instead greatly influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Persian and Indian art. The majority of her works were painted with thin washes of gouache or tempera on silk, linen, paper or even gold leaf. It was not until much later in her artistic career that impressionist styles made their way into her artwork.
Egg tempera on linen, this highly lyrical scene is part of the artist’s Four Seasons series composed between 1936 and 1938. The piece is an incredible example of her stylized, linear depictions of her subjects.
Lélia Pissarro (b. 1963)
The third and youngest child of H. Claude Pissarro, Lélia Pissarro seemed destined to pick up the paintbrush as the fourth generation of the incredible Pissarro dynasty. As a French artist, she leaned heavily into and excelled in impressionist and post-impressionist styles. Studying under both her father and grandfather, Paulémile, this came as no surprise. She sold her first painting to New York art dealer Wally Findlay at the age of just four and first exhibited at the age of eleven. Her skill is evidenced in her brilliant use of color, swift brushstrokes and masterful technique.
Lyora Pissarro (b. 1991)
Representing the fifth generation of Pissarro artists, Lyora Pissarro took a drastically different approach in her painting practice. Although her familial skill is apparent, Lyora is renowned for her colorful, geometric landscapes that break with the Impressionist style. The artist describes her works as creative journeys, “often winding, mostly enchanting and hopefully uplifting.” Her incredible breadth of work is an homage to the generations that came before her as well as the ones to come. We have also recently had the privilege of interviewing Lyora Pissarro, which you can read more about here.
You can view our exhibition, The Pissarro Dynasty: Five Generations of Artistic Mastery, online or in person until Saturday, May 15, 2021.