Catalogue entry

Miss Orovida Pissarro 1956

T00139

Oil on canvas

914 x 711 (35 13/16 x 27 7/8)

Inscribed in white paint 'Carel Weight 1956' b.r.

Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1957

Provenance:
Chantrey Purchase from the artist

Exhibited:
Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, May-Aug. 1957 (59)
Bicentenary Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, Dec. 1968-March 1969 (D23, repr. p.110, pl.a)
Carel Weight, Reading Museum and Art Gallery, Sept.-Oct. 1970 (37)
Carel Weight, Emeritus, Royal College of Art, London, June-July 1973 (10)
Carel Weight RA: A Retrospective Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, Jan.-Feb. 1982 and Arts Council tour: York City Art Gallery, Feb.-April, Rochdale Art Gallery, April-May, Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance, May-June, New Metropole Arts Centre, Folkestone, July-Aug. (41, repr. in col.)
Achievement: British Jewry, Camden Arts Centre, London, April-June 1985 (208)
Carel Weight RA: An Eightieth Birthday Celebration, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Sept.-Oct. 1988, City of Bristol Art Gallery, Oct.-Nov., Metropole Arts Centre, Folkestone, Dec.-Jan. 1989 (2, repr.)

Literature:
Royal Academy Illustrated, London 1957, p.50, repr.
Tate Gallery Annual Report, 1957-8, London 1958, p.23, repr. between pp.18 and 19
David Wolfers, 'Portrait Painters of Today: 3. Carel Weight', Tatler, 3 Sept. 1958, repr. as 'Painter: Miss Orovida Pissarro'
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, pp.763-4, pl.58
Impressionist and Modern Paintings and Sculpture, sale cat., Christie's, London, 4 Dec. 1984, repr. p.20
Mervyn Levy, Carel Weight, London 1986, p.58, repr. in col. p.54, pl.45
R.V. Weight, Carel Weight: A Haunted Imagination, London 1994, pp.56-7, repr. p.57

This is the first of two portraits that Carel Weight made in quick succession in 1956-7 of the painter who signed herself simply Orovida. He was a close friend of Orovida Pissarro (1893-1968), who commissioned the portraits and with whom he exchanged works. She was the daughter of the painter Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944) and the granddaughter of Camille Pissarro (1839-1903), one of the major French Impressionists. Lucien Pissarro helped to introduce the style to England as a founder of the Camden Town and the London Groups. Weight characterised this pivotal role in the London art world by dubbing him 'a hero of British art, for bringing over artists from France' (conversation with the author, 8 Dec. 1995). Trained only within her family, Orovida became known in the inter-war years for her decorative paintings of oriental subjects, especially horsemen. The portrait was commissioned from Weight as part of the legacy of this remarkable artistic dynasty to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford; the gift of correspondence, drawings and paintings was initiated by Lucien's wife Esther Pissarro in 1950 and completed by Orovida after her mother's death (Anne Therold and Kristen Erickson, Camille Pissarro and his family: The Pissarro Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1993). As Weight explained in a letter to the Tate Gallery (1 Sept. 1957), it was shown at the Royal Academy and 'when she heard that the Chantrey Committee would like it for the Tate, she allowed the work to be bought and asked me to paint another version for Oxford ... The new picture is in no way a replica and is an entirely different arrangement'.

The significance of the family bequest was explicitly acknowledged in the setting and surrounding objects. It was painted at Orovida Pissarro's house in Redcliffe Gardens, London, in October and November 1956. Weight's account continued:

I have tried to surround Miss Pissarro with objects appropriate to her life and interests and tastes. The table behind was made by Camille's father and the picture on the table on the left is one of the last etchings C.P. did - a self portrait. The two pictures coming into the top of the portrait are by her father Lucien and the picture with the horse's legs on the right is part of an imaginary picture of Prince Rupert by herself. She has a great liking for china and richly coloured textiles.
In a long passage quoted by Mervyn Levy (Carel Weight, London 1986, pp.64-5), Weight confirmed the importance of the setting: 'I see the subject primarily as an object, and I like all the bits and pieces around this central feature to relate to the sitter in a very intimate way. They are a vital extension of the life of the subject.' Of Orovida he remarked that she 'was a very close friend, and a very sweet and wonderful person. Physically she was enormously fat. ... There was a marked Chinese flavour about her. She loved oriental art, and this was reflected in her work'. Weight also enlarged upon some of the specific details:
When I painted this picture of her ... I wanted all the objects and things about her to reflect her personality, her interests, her history ... All the porcelain belonged to her grandfather. On the desk is a sculptured head by one of her friends, a pot of her brushes, and on the wall paintings by her father Lucien Pissarro.
He concluded: 'It is all very rich in its decorative content, which is I think expressive of her personality and her art.' Two of the items are more specifically identifiable. The etching is Camille Pissarro's Self-Portrait c.1890 (Loys Delteil, Le Peintre Graveur Illustr?, vol.17: Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, Paris 1923, D.90). The mahogany desk had belonged to Camille Pissarro; when sold at Christie's in London (4 Dec. 1984, lot 418) it was described as having 'three frieze drawers above a baize-lined sliding secretaire drawer'. Before appearing in Weight's portrait of Orovida, it had been included in Camille Pissarro's La Couturi?re ? la Fen?tre (Ludovico Rodo Pissarro and Lionello Venturi, Camille Pissarro: son art, son oeuvre, Paris 1939, no.1208).

If the setting of Miss Orovida Pissarro was a microcosm of the nature of her life and of the legacy it was originally supposed to accompany, it was also a striking likeness. The roughness of some of the brushwork suggests the speed of working in the scumbled areas of the background, and a crystalline film subsequently formed over large areas of the table, the carpet, the painting to the right and the sitter's head. The composition demonstrated Weight's preference for the steeply angled view from above afforded by the standing painter confronting the seated sitter. Here it is exaggerated by her bulk which, he remarked to Levy (1986, pp.64-5), she deliberately accentuated in her choice of brightly patterned or coloured clothes. Her deep red dress here sets the colour harmonies for the whole composition, with the china being given a balancing greenish tone. Despite this robust presence, her eyes are averted.

The colouring of the replacement portrait, Orovida Pissarro II, completed in 1957 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), was rather more restrained, despite the sitter's red, white and blue striped dress. It is flooded with cool daylight, which contrasts with the warmth of the apparently artificial lighting of the Tate picture. She is seen on a level viewpoint, which allowed a direct engagement and a more forceful presence. True to his view of portraiture, Weight again included the sitter's furniture and personal objects. Of particular note is the book in the foreground, which Colin Harrison of the Ashmolean has identified (conversation with the author, 15 March 1996) as one of the two volumes of Lucien Pissarro's studio book included in the Pissarro Bequest to the museum. The work visible is Le Fagot, a wood engraving dated 1889. Not only does this picture-within-a-picture occupy a comparably prominent place to that of the self-portrait of Camille Pissarro in the Tate painting but they also coincide in date.

Matthew Gale
March 1996