The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Lucien Pissarro Almond Trees, Le Lavandou 1923

The setting of this painting is the small fishing village of Le Lavandou on the French Riviera where Pissarro stayed with his wife and aging mother during the winter and spring of 1922–3. His view depicts the local agriculture and the slowly emerging spring against a background of blue hills, avoiding more picturesque studies of the nearby ports. The pinks, whites and pale blues of the almond tree blossoms are the painting’s final touches; Pissarro began the picture before they were fully in bloom.
Lucien Pissarro 1863–1944
Almond Trees, Le Lavandou
Les Amandiers, Le Lavandou
1923
Oil paint on canvas
597 x 730 mm
Inscribed ‘LP’ in monogram and ‘1923’ bottom left, and ‘Lucien Pissarro | The Brook, Stamford Brook Road, W.6. | 1 Les Amandiers, Le Lavandou | £130’ on handwritten label on stretcher cross member
Purchased 1924
N03865

Entry

The clear winter sky of Provence is recorded in the light tonality of this painting. Le Lavandou, at the time this painting was made in 1923, was a small fishing village on the western end of the French Riviera, between Hyères and St Tropez. Pissarro’s diary for that year opens with him and his wife Esther staying at the Villa Boniol at Bormes-les-Mimosa, just outside Le Lavandou.1 They rented this house partly for reasons of his health, allowing him to escape the British winter, but also in order to be with his elderly mother, who was staying with them and was unwell (she died in 1926). They were able to afford this visit after the success of his exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London in October 1922.2 On 20 January, he started a picture of mimosas,3 and four days later began to paint the almond trees, as his diary reads:
January
24 Morning. drew in preparation for Almond Blossom.
25 Mrng. Continuation of preparation for Almond Blossom
26 dito
27 dito
28 Morning. Almond Blossom
29 Morning. Almond Blossom the flowers are very slow to come.
February
2 Mrg: did Almond Blossom
6 Morning worked at Almond Blossom the flowers are only beginning and give me a lot of trouble to put right with the rest of the picture.
7 mrng. Almond Blossom
13 Matin. Amandiers en Fleurs
14 Matin. Grey. Went to the Amandiers but sun disappeared. Could not work
15 Matin. finished Amandiers en fleurs.
It thus took twelve mornings’ work to make this painting over a period of twenty-three days, in the middle of which he seems to have slowed up to await the opening of the blossom. The colour is applied quite thinly in comparison to the earlier paintings by Pissarro in the Tate collection, and the white ground of the canvas shows through in various places, especially around the trunks and branches of the trees. The canvas is unpainted in each top corner, behind the rebate of the frame, perhaps because of some clips to keep it on the easel. The blossom of the five almond trees is dabbed on top of the painting of the branches, in shades of pink with blue, red and mauve.
The mountains at Le Lavandou go right down to the sea, and in choosing subjects to paint Pissarro avoided the port and the more picturesque views of the slopes. The practice of local farming is illustrated clearly in this painting, and the shadows of the trees make switchbacks which emphasise the furrows, and he includes at the lower right corner a farmer’s hut of stone. This orchard and level field is the kind of subject that had appealed to Vincent van Gogh in Provence, or, in northern France, to his father Camille Pissarro. The family conversation at this time was at least once about Camille’s painting: just after Lucien had completed The Almond Trees, he recorded in his diary on 18 February: ‘No work. Scene parce que maman pretend que [Scene because mama claims that] father did work only to make money.’ Thus, even in the 1920s, Lucien was still not far from the world of the first impressionists.
Camille Pissarro 'A Corner of the Meadow at Eragny' 1902
Fig.1
Camille Pissarro
A Corner of the Meadow at Eragny 1902
Tate N06003
He had anticipated painting the fruit trees, and had written to his daughter Orovida on 29 December 1922: ‘I have several things in hand and love this place, full of variety – presently it will be gorgious [sic] with orchard of peach and almond trees in blossom’.4 It was the first time he had painted in the south of France, but he returned there for several years, and bought a house near Toulon in 1929 which he called Campagne Orovida, after his daughter. In Anne Thorold’s catalogue of Pissarro’s oil paintings there are seventeen landscapes of Le Lavandou listed for 1922–3.5 Most are of cultivated fields, a farmhouse and mountains, and give overall an impression of historic farm life, comparable to Camille Pissarro’s views of Pontoise and Eragny (Tate N06003, fig.1).
The curator and conservative critic James Laver wrote at the time that the Provençal paintings were Pissarro’s best:
England has not always been able to give him the sunlight which his method expresses best ... although Pissarro has painted many English subjects ... he returns with evident pleasure ... particularly to Le Lavandou, the little town in Var, on that delightful part of the Mediterranean coast with lies opposite the Iles d’Hyères. Here he has painted the hills in sunshine, the purple shadows of tall trees, the sea dancing with light, the delicacy of Mimosas, the subtle contrasts of Reeds and Peaches. The wheel has come full circle, the young Impressionist, and the cultured decorator of books ... have met in a single individual ... working at an art which is the full expression of a serene and harmonious personality.6
Pissarro’s paintings of Provence sold well in an exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, London, in October 1924. The row with his mother on 18 February the year before may have been because Lucien felt defensive about painting subjects as popular as the south of France. Pissarro’s friend J.B. Manson reproduced the painting in both his books on the Tate Gallery, in 1926 and 1929, praising it for its accuracy of colours, the ‘extraordinary effect of recession with pure colour’.7
Anne Thorold mentions that a drawing of this composition belonged in 1958 to Raymond Mortimer (1895–1980).8 Mortimer, a literary critic and one of the Bloomsbury circle, wrote the ‘Appreciation’ in the catalogue of Pissarro’s memorial exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in January 1946.9 He praised Pissarro for his professionalism and seriousness, describing him as a nineteenth-century French artist, in a separate category from a slightly younger but more modern artist like Henri Matisse.

David Fraser Jenkins
October 2002

Notes

1
The diary is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
2
W.S. Meadmore, Lucien Pissarro: Un Coeur simple, London 1962, p.182.
3
Private collection, on loan to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Anne Thorold, A Catalogue of the Oil Paintings of Lucien Pissarro, London 1983, no.359.
4
Quoted ibid., p.22.
5
Ibid., nos.353–62, 364–70.
6
James Laver, Portraits in Oil and Vinegar, London 1925, pp.31–2.
7
J.B. Manson, Hours in the Tate Gallery, London 1926, p.128.
8
Thorold 1983, no.360.
9
Memorial Exhibition of Paintings and Water-colours by Lucien Pissarro, 1863–1944, Leicester Galleries, London, January 1946.

How to cite

David Fraser Jenkins, ‘Almond Trees, Le Lavandou 1923 by Lucien Pissarro’, catalogue entry, October 2002, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/lucien-pissarro-almond-trees-le-lavandou-r1139234, accessed 23 July 2019.