Washerwoman, Study, Camille Pissaro, 1880, Oil on canvas, MET 56.184.1
Camille Pissarro has been called the father of Impressionism. Deeply engaged in France during the late 1800’s, Pissarro’s work shifted from a focus on depicting viewers perception of landscape to the human experience. His study titled Washerwoman serves as a benchmark for this switch in subject focus. In the painting he engages a human audience with the Washerwoman and connects deeply with their common humanity, both the emotional experience and embodied struggle. This engagement is striking and causes viewers to look deeply into the eyes of the woman in the painting, eyes seemingly full of experiences, longing to hear her stories and to engage with her work. It is important to recognize that Pissarro did not paint in a vacuum but was impacted by, and has had an impact on, various other artists and art movements. His experience growing up in the Virgin Islands, and his travels to Venezuela and France at an early age helped to develop his interested in the human experience as he was confronted with a variety of different people and cultures. These various interactions were unified by the subjects work and so Pissarro chose to paint the vast majority of his human subjects in the context of their work. This focus on human experience is not a unique thing to Pissarro or to French Impressionism, it can be found throughout art history and is the focus of this exhibit.
Little Chaville, Camille Corot, 1823-1825, Oil on canvas, Ashmolean Museum
Camille Corot was a tutor of Pissarro during his early days in France. Corot was a realist painter and focused on landscapes. He worked to incorporate the every day into his work recognizing that every day subjects help us to appreciate the world that we interact with. An example of this focus is the Little Chaville; Pissarro was heavily influenced by this style of painting. It is clear throughout his work that the every day is important, however, Corot was particularly influential on Pissarro’s landscape work.
Boy in a Red Vest, Paul Cezanne, 1888, Oil on canvas, Foundation E.G. Bührle
Paul Cezanne was a student of Pissarro after his rise to recognition within the impressionist movement. Cezanne’s early work highlighted light and detailed representation of subjects both human and not. However, as he transitioned into his own style he became more aligned with the Post-impressionist draw towards simplicity. His work began to simplify but primarily in its composition, rather than the subjects themselves. An example of this is the Boy in a Red Vest. This representation of a boy is, like Pissarro’s Washerwoman, strikingly human and yet it is easily distinguishable from Pissarro’s work because it is less naturalistic, focusing instead on the feelings evoked by the image.
The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893, Oil, Pastel, Tempera on cardboard, National Gallery, Oslo
Edvard Munch is a painter from Norway and the Expressionist movement. His painting The Scream is another take on the focus on human experience that is highlighted throughout this period. Similarly to Pissarro’s Washersoman the subject in the painting is a human, but the attempt at representational accuracy is gone. Munch is driven towards the depiction of human emotion, in this case surprise, fear, and uncertainty. Viewers cannot help but be struck by the power of these emotions when looking at this painting. It is engaging because it highlights a piece of our common experience as human beings.
Morning Day on the Farm, Grandma Moses, 1951, Unknown, Unknown
Grandma Moses is known for painting idealistic landscapes filled with people engaging one another and their daily work. In Morning Day on the Farm there are various goods being collected and prepared for transport somewhere. The painting lines up with Pissarro’s Washerwoman in its interest in the occupation of humans together. Work is something we all engage in and as such it has the power to unify us across a host of differences. Both Pissarro and Grandma Moses highlight this power in their subjects vocational contexts.
The Joy of Life, Henri Matisse, 1905-1906, Oil on canvas, The Barnes Foundation
Matisse is a part of the Avant-Garde. His work pushes for liberation of everything but is seen in The Joy of Life as a push for the liberation of color. As a part of the Avant-Garde he is working to push towards abstraction with his work in order to draw out the viewers intuitions about the painting. In his abstraction he does not allow for viewers to obtain rational distance from the content but rather he forces some interaction on a personal level. Pissarro’s work, though disconnected by over twenty years, is influential on Matisse. Here Matisse pushes back on the Impressionist focus on the everyday, recognizing that human experience is becoming more and more painful and in need of escape as the push for modernism takes over. In the Joy of Life he tries to provide this escape.