Lucien Pissarro

Girl Picking Flowers


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Lucien Pissarro 1863–1944
Wood engraving on paper
Image: 155 × 112 mm
Purchased 1924

Catalogue entry

PISSARRO, Lucien 1864-1944
Girl Picking Flowers 1902
Four block colour wood-engraving 117 x 98 (4 5/8 x 3 7/8) on laid paper approximately 155 x 113 (6 1/8 x 4 7/16); published by the Eragny Press in an edition of 12
Inscribed in pencil ‘5/12 LP [in monogram] del[ineavit], sc[ulpsit] & imp[ressit]’ below image
Purchased (Duveen Drawings and Paintings Fund) 1924
Bought from the aritist January 1924


Long loan to Victoria and Albert Museum, London from 1930s – February 1977 (3854)

Pierre de Ronsard, Choix de sonnets, London 1902, frontispiece (black and white version)
Lucien Pissarro, ‘Catalogue de gravures sur bois’, manuscript studiobook, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1905-29, II, no. 284 (colour)
T[homas] Sturge Moore, A Brief Account of the Origin of the Eragny Press and Note on the Relation of the Printed Book as a Work of Art to Life, London 1903, reproduced p.52 (black and white version)
‘Peintres-Graveurs Contemporains: Lucien Pissarro’, Gazette des Beaux Arts, vol. 15, November-December 1919, p.45 n.1, reproduced opposite p.336 (black and white version)
Malcolm C. Salaman, British Book-Illustration Yesterday and Today, London 1923, reproduced p.113 (black and white, as The Poems of Ronsard)
Alan Fern, ‘The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro with Catalogue Raisonné’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Chicago 1960, no. 213 (printed in reverse and black and white)

Geoffrey Perkins, The Gentle Art: A Collection of Books and Wood Engravings by Lucien Pissarro, exhibition catalogue, L’Art Ancien S.A., Zurich 1974 p.35, no.23
John Russell Taylor, The Art Nouveau Book in Britain, 3rd edition, Edinburgh 1980, reproduced p.122 (black and white version, with borders and text, as Choix de Sonnets de P. de Ronsard)
Anne Thorold, The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro, 1883-1903, Cambridge 1993, pp.733 n.1, 737 n.2, 754 n.3, reproduced pl.175 (as Choix de Sonnets, ‘Title Page’, black and white version, with borders and text)
Lora Urbanelli, The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro & a Bibliographical List of Eragny Books, Cambridge and Oxford 1994, reproduced fig.ix (black and white version)
Lora Urbanelli, The Book Art of Lucien Pissarro with a Bibliographical List of the Books of the Eragny Press 1894-1914, Rhode Island and London 1997, reproduced fig.xiii, p.28 (black and white)
Marcella D. Genz, A History of the Eragny Press 1894-1914, Delaware and London 2004, pp.174, 177, reproduced (as Choix de Sonnets de P. de Ronsard, ‘Title Page’, black and white version, with borders and text)

The wood-engraving, Girl Picking Flowers, was used by Lucien Pissarro as the frontispiece to the 1902 Eragny Press publication of Choix de sonnets by Pierre de Ronsard. For a general discussion of the Eragny Press see the ‘Introduction’ and the biographies of Lucien and Esther Pissarro. For a discussion of Pissarro’s technical accomplishments in colour wood engraving see the text for P07098.

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-85) was one of the most celebrated and accomplished poets of Renaissance France and renowned for verses based on classical and Italian conventions with themes of nature, love and wine. In particular he is considered to be one of France’s greatest love poets and the Choix de sonnets are a selection of love poems from across his career. Pissarro seems to have compiled the collection himself, incorporating examples from Ronsard’s three most famous cycles of sonnets. Premier Livre des amours (first published in 1552 and today more commonly know as Amours de Cassandre) is a collection of poems inspired by a real person, Cassandre Salviati, the daughter of an Italian banker whom Ronsard knew. The poetry is based on the Petrachan model of the idealised love of an unattainable beauty. By contrast, the poems of Le Second Livre des amours (1556), are also written with a real person in mind, but the poet’s passion for Marie, a country girl from Anjou, represents a more realistic, reciprocal version of love. Finally, towards the end of his life Ronsard fell in unrequited love with the much younger Hélène de Surgères, a lady-in-waiting to Catherine de Medici and the resulting verses were published in 1578, as Sonnets pour Helene. Since his lifetime Ronsard’s work had been neglected for around three hundred years and it was not until the nineteenth century that his work was re-discovered and accorded a place in French culture. Pissarro’s decision to republish the poems as an Eragny publication shows to what extent he was conversant with French literary history and taste as well as with the visual arts.
Girl Picking Flowers initially appeared in Choix de sonnets in black and white, as part of an elaborate title page complete with the text of the first poem of the book, Qui voudra voir comme amour me surmonte [Who would see how love overwhelms me] from Amours de Cassandre.[1] However the image was probably meant to illustrate the lines of another poem from the same collection, ‘Quand elle va sur l’herbe la plus tendre seule, à l’écart, mille fleurs ravaissant’[2] [When she goes alone, apart, onto the softest grass, a thousand flowers are enchanted] with which it was reproduced in the Gazette des Beaux Arts in 1919.[3] The title page follows the medieval style of printed books popularised by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, with the double page spread conceived as a single unit and densely covered by text and decorative features. The ornamental borders and letters were drawn by Lucien but engraved by his wife, Esther. A small example of her work was reproduced as one of the Ashmolean’s 1981 reprints from the original wood-blocks (see Tate, P08191). Girl Picking Flowers is one of a limited edition of twelve of the original published design printed in colour.

Pissarro’s studio notebook, the ‘Catalogue de Gravures sur Bois’ [Catalogue of Wood Engravings] contains an earlier proof of the design which is identical to this version except that it appears in reverse and in black and white only.[4] Pissarro’s drawings were transferred for engraving by projecting a photograph of the image onto the surface of the wood block (usually pear or boxwood), which had been sensitized in the same way as photographic paper. It has therefore been suggested by Alan Fern that Girl Picking Flowers was initially transferred incorrectly during the photographic process and that further blocks were later made for the published version and the coloured editions, this time with the design reinstated to the correct position.[5]

The style of Girl Picking Flowers is quite unlike the French Impressionist rustic themes and simple figures drawn from life that appear in Pissarro’s earlier wood-engravings (see for example Tate P08182 and P08183). Instead it shows the influence of the English circle who were Pissarro’s friends in London, and in particular the work of fellow wood-engravers Charles Ricketts (1866-1931) and Charles Shannon (1863-1937). Pissarro had been introduced to them shortly after his emigration to England and usually spent one night a week dining with them and the other members of the ‘Vale’ circle at their house in Chelsea. It was through them that he became familiar with the work of Rossetti, Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelites, and they also encouraged him to contribute to their occasional literary and artistic publication, The Dial, a magazine that reflected sympathies with the Arts and Crafts Movement and French Symbolism. Their generosity to the newly arrived Frenchman, and their common interests and enthusiasms for the revival of wood-engraving, not to mention their charismatic personalities (particularly Charles Ricketts), made it likely that their artistic manner would sooner or later manifest itself within Pissarro’s work. The choice of subject matter of Girl Picking Flowers, and the focus on a single female persona, as well as a change in the style of the figure towards a more graceful, mannered and elongated design, all demonstrate Pissarro’s engagement with emerging Art-Nouveau features and established Pre-Raphaelite traditions, especially the emphasis on looking back to classical influences. Camille Pissarro wrote with concern on a number of occasions about this change in his son’s work. He warned him against the influence of Ricketts, who he believed relied too heavily on borrowing from the Old Masters and the sentimental art of the Pre-Raphaelites, and urged him not to forsake his ‘rough Eragny’ style derived from nature.[6] In a letter to Lucien regarding Ricketts and his work, Camille wrote:

Notre façon de comprendre, nous autres impressionnistes, est diamétralement opposé ... s’inspirer des Ancients est tout autre à notre point de vue, nous ne demandons pas mieux que d’être classique, mais en la trouvant par notre propre sensation, oh! Que c’est different![7]

[Our way of understanding, we other impressionists, is diametrically opposed ... to be inspired by the ancients is altogether different concept, we ask nothing better than to be classics, but we want to achieve that through our own experience, oh! How different that is!]

However, he was fulsome in his praise of the finished book, writing to his son ‘It seems to me that this time you have surpassed yourself. The whole thing is simply superb, the cover is charming and discreet in tone, the engraving is ample and very appropriate to the ornamentation and to the characters, and the ensemble is decorative, in very good taste and with affectation.’[8]

Alan Fern has suggested that the adoption by Pissarro of some of the mannerisms of the English illustrators arose from the difficulty and expense of employing models from whom to draw.[9] This view however takes no account of the need for Pissarro to match the style of his illustrations to the publication in question, or to the competitive market in which the books were circulating. Whilst eminently suitable for children’s stories like the Queen of the Fishes (see Tate, P08189) or the fairytales of Charles Perrault (see Tate, P07102), the more naïve and simple rustic wood-engravings would have been inappropriate for a poet as complex and rooted in classical tradition as Ronsard, especially when the volume was competing for critical and commercial success with other sophisticated ‘books beautiful’ under production at the Vale Press and elsewhere. Nevertheless, Pissarro never fully embraced the art of the English ‘fin-de-siècle’. As Anne Thorold has pointed out, his work was never characterised by the decadence or exoticism of some of the illustrators of the period, for example Aubrey Beardsley and his circle.[10] He always retained a certain French naivety and simplicity, even in his more ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ prints, and he went on to produce further work in the ‘rough Eragny’ style later in his career. The differences in aesthetic beliefs between Ricketts and Pissarro, combined with commercial and financial disagreements, eventually caused the two men to drift apart. After the closure of the Vale Press in 1904 all communication between them ceased.

Nicola Moorby
October 2002

[1] Pierre de Ronsard, Choix de sonnets, London 1902, title page.
[2] Ronsard 1902, p.12, sonnet no.IX.
[3] ‘Peintres-Graveurs Contemporains: Lucien Pissarro’, Gazette des Beaux Arts, November-December 1919, p.45 n.1, reproduced opposite p.336 (black and white version).

[4] Lucien Pissarro, ‘Catalogue de gravures sur bois’, manuscript studiobook, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1905-29, I, no.89, dated 1901.
[5] Alan Fern, ‘The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro with Catalogue Raisonné’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Chicago 1960, p.228.

[6] John Rewald (ed. and trans.), Camille Pissarro: Letters to his Son Lucien, 3rd ed. 1972, p.304.

[7] Quoted in Anne Thorold, The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, Cambridge 1993, p.517.

[8] Rewald (ed.) 1972, pp.350-1.

[9] Fern 1960, p.53.
[10] Lucien Pissarro: His Influence on English Art 1890-1914, exhibition catalogue, Royal Museum and Art Gallery, Canterbury 1986, [p.5].

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