Lucien Pissarro

Portrait de Camille Pissarro


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Lucien Pissarro 1863–1944
Wood engraving on paper
Image: 25 × 29 mm
Transferred from the Library 1982

Catalogue entry

PISSARRO, Lucien 1863-1944
Portrait of Camille Pissarro 1893, reprinted 1981
Wood-engraving 25 x 29 (1 x 1 1/8) on handmade Hosho wove paper 69 x 84 (2 11/16 x 3 5/16); reprinted from the original block by Iain Bain and David Chambers, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1981 as part of a portfolio of 29 prints in an edition of 175
Transferred from Tate Library 1982
Purchased from Anthony d’Offay Gallery 1981

Catalogue d’exposition de Camille Pissarro chez Durand-Ruel, Paris, March 1893
Lucien Pissarro, ‘Catalogue de gravures sur bois’, circa 1903, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1905-29, I, no.46
Alan Fern, ‘The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro with Catalogue Raisonné’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Chicago 1960, no.69, p.170
David Chambers, Lucien Pissarro: Notes on a Selection of Wood Blocks Held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1980, p.22 reproduced
Anne Thorold (ed.), The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, Oxford 1993, p.313, reproduced pl.89

Lora Urbanelli, The Wood Engravings of Lucien Pissarro & a Bibliographical List of Eragny Books, Cambridge and Oxford 1994, reproduced fig.20 [p.85]
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.17 p.75

Lucien Pissarro had a very close relationship with his father Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), the famous Impressionist painter, etcher and lithographer. After Lucien’s move to England they wrote to each other frequently, as the wealth of surviving letters now in the Pissarro Archive at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford bears witness. The letters contain not only an exchange of news regarding family and friends but also discussions on politics, current affairs, and of course, art and each other’s work. Camille offered continual encouragement and advice, and Lucien in his own way also tried to support his father, promoting, where possible, sales of his work in Britain and abroad. In 1893, Camille Pissarro, whose financial situation at this time was improving but was still precarious, held an exhibition of recent work at the galleries of Paul Durand-Ruel in Paris which ran from 15-30 March. Lucien designed three small wood-engraved illustrations for the accompanying catalogue: Vue d’Eragny,[1] Fleurs des champs,[2] and this image, Portrait of Camille Pissarro. Tate’s version of the design was printed in 1981 for the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, from the original wood block carved by Lucien Pissarro in 1893 (for a general discussion see the ‘Introduction’). A different drawing by him of his father was also used on the front cover of an edition of Les Hommes d’aujourd’hui dedicated to the older painter from the same year.[3] He had already contributed images to a catalogue for Camille’s exhibition at Boussod and Valadon in 1890.[4]

Although primarily a landscape artist, Lucien Pissarro did occasionally undertake portraits and it is possible to recognise the members of his family, particularly his wife, Esther, and daughter, Orovida, posing as models for characters in his wood-engraved work. The portrait of his father was probably executed whilst Lucien and Esther were staying at his parents’ home at Eragny following their marriage in the summer of 1892. The visit lasted until the following spring, during which time Lucien worked on oil paintings and prints and also exhibited some of his own work in Paris, at the Société des Artistes Indépendants.
The print depicts the Impressionist painter in profile wearing a type of shapeless worker’s hat that he habitually favoured, emphasising his long beard, dark eyes and Jewish looks. According to Kathleen Adler, friends and colleagues often remarked that Camille resembled an Old Testament prophet.[5] It was also said that he looked like Father Christmas.[6] The design was later re-worked by Lucien around 1927, over fourteen years after Camille’s death, possibly from photographs of his father in profile which are now in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum.[7] In the reworked versions Camille is made to look older, his distinctive features emphasised with white line, and the background is either plain or more ornamental.[8] Another portrait of his father was executed in 1906 printed in black, grey and white on coloured paper and showing Camille, three-quarters turned to face the viewer.[9] There is a photograph with an almost identical pose in the collection of the Ashmolean, so it is possible that Lucien used it as the basis for the posthumous portrait.[10]

As one of the great Impressionist painters, Camille Pissarro was an important figure for the Camden Town Group. Walter Richard Sickert, who from 1898-1905 lived in Dieppe, had acquainted himself with Lucien in England in 1891 after Lucien had given a lecture on Impressionism at the Art Workers’ Guild. The Frenchman was perturbed by Sickert’s use of black and described his studio to Camille as ‘Déplorable!’.[11] Sickert met Camille during the elder painter’s successive painting trips to Dieppe from 1899. Sickert later wrote:‘under the influence of Pissarro in France, himself guided by Corot ... I tried to recast my painting entirely and to observe colour in the shadows’.[12] In his later writings, Sickert often stated that Pissarro’s importance to modern art had not yet been fully recognised. In the preface for the catalogue of the Camille Pissarro exhibition at the Stafford Galleries, London, October 1911, written from ‘Camden Town’ he outlined the French painter’s relevance:

Pissarro’s importance has not yet been properly understood ... To study the work of Pissarro is to see that the best traditions were being quietly carried on by a man essentially painter and poet. For the dark and light of charoscuro [sic] of the past was substituted a new prismatic charoscuro. An intensified observation of colour was called in, which enabled the painter to get the effect of light and shade without rendering the shadow so dark as to be undecorative.[13]

Sickert’s respect and admiration for Camille Pissarro was no doubt influential in the regard he had for Lucien. On his return to England in 1906, Sickert renewed his friendship with the younger Pissarro whom he invited to join the Fitzroy Street Group. He later wrote about the key role Lucien had played in linking the lessons of the French Impressionists to what was achieved in London by the:

whole group of moderns as influenced by myself and Mr Lucien Pissarro. That whole group might perhaps more correctly be described as being students of the great Impressionist group. Mr Pissarro, holding the exceptional position at once of an original talent, and of the pupil of his father, the authoritative depository of a mass of inherited knowledge and experience, has certainly served us as a guide, or, let us say, a dictionary of theory and practice on the road we have elected to travel.[14]

Nicola Moorby
December 2002

[1] Lucien Pissarro, ‘Catalogue de gravures sur bois’, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1905-29, I, no.45.
[2] Ibid., no.59.
[3] Reproduced Anne Thorold (ed.), The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, Oxford 1993 1993, pl.49, p.137.
[4] Reproduced in Thorold (ed.), pl.48.

[5] Kathleen Adler, Camille Pissarro: A Biography, London 1978, p.155.
[6] According to his niece Esther Isaacson, Adler 1978, p.101.
[7] Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, photograph nos.20 and 25.
[8] Reproduced John Rewald (ed.), Camille Pissarro: Letters to his Son Lucien, London 1943, fig.90, p.360.
[9] Reproduced in colour in Lucien Pissarro, Notes on the Eragny Press, and a Letter to J.B. Manson, Cambridge 1957, pl.11.
[10] Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, photograph no.22.

[11] Letter from Lucien to Camille Pissarro, May 1891, in Thorold (ed.) 1993, p.212.
[12] ‘The Spirit of the Hive’, New Age, 26 May 1910, reproduced in Anna Gruetzner Robins, Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000, p.236.

[13] ‘Preface’, Exhibition of Pictures by Camille Pissarro at the Stafford Gallery, London, October 1911, reproduced in Robins 2000, p.287.

[14] Walter Sickert ‘Whitechapel’, The New Age, 28 May 1914, reproduced in Robins 2000, p.371.

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