Camille Pissarro, c. 1901, Exhibition The Studio of Modernism, Kunstmuseum Basel, Photo/Foto: TES.

A Hommage to Camille Pissarro in Basel

“We may all come from Pissaro. He had the good fortune to be born in the Antilles. There he learned to draw without a master. The first Impressionist, yes, that’s him” (Michael Doran, Paul Cézanne, Conversations avec Cézanne, Paris 1978).

Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) ranks among the most distinguished artists of nineteenth-century France. To retrace the arc of his exceptionally diverse oeuvre is to witness the birth of modernism and Impressionism in particular. 

And yet today’s histories of art often cast Pissarro in a subsidiary role. The exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel offers an overview of Pissarro’s output, his role in the development of (Neo-)Impressionism. The impressive collection of his contemporaries shows his collaborative relationships with other artists.  

 In 1855 he left his native Caribbean Island of St. Thomas and settled in Paris. He devoted himself to painting. He indeed rejected traditional academic training, preferring in the open air and work independently, the impressionist avant la lettre.

 As a friend and mentor, Pissarro was also in close contact with artists of several generations, including Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt. 

 His sustained exchanges of ideas with his colleagues may be regarded as a vital catalyst for the developments in the painting of the second half of the nineteenth century.

 He was a central figure in Impressionism. Pissarro exerted considerable influence over the movement’s other members. He was the only one to dedicate himself to the landscape and the human figure with equal assiduity. 

 He and other artists founded the Société anonyme coopérative des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs, et graveurs, which organised 8 exhibitions between 1874 and 1886. The press contemptously called them ‘Impressionists’. 

 In 1884, he moved to Éragny-sur-Epte, far away from Paris, but surrounded by his family, including his four painting sons. Pissarro worked closely with them and this time and period is even called the ‘School Éragny’ nowadays.  

 Pissarro aligned himself in the 1880s with the second revolution in painting: Neoimpressionism. His contributions gave fresh proof of his tenacious pursuit of artistic progress. 

 Camille Pissarro is an artist of particular importance to the Kunstmuseum Basel, with eight paintings and numerous works on paper in its collection. Exhibitions on Impressionism have a long tradition in Basel anyway.

 Un coin de l’Hermitage, Pontoise (1878) was the first Impressionist painting to enter the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, the public art collection of Basel. It was acquired in 1912.

 The latest new impressionist painting is his La Maison Rondest. L’Hermitage (1875), actually acquired this year.

 The ‘motor’ of the impressionist movement died on November 13, 1903. He is buried on Père-Lachaise, an honour in the time of the Dreyfus-affaire (1894-1906). Pissarro was Jewish as well and an outsider from a faraway island.

(Source: Kunstmuseum Basel, The Studio of Modernism (Das Atelier der Moderne).