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Lucien Pissarro 1863-1944
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The Mill from the Hill, Blackpool (Devon)
Oil painting on unlined canvas 45.5 x 54.4 cm. / 18 x 21 ½ inches
Signed with the artist's usual monogram (LPO in ligature) and dated 1913 lower right; inscribed as titled and dated in the artist's hand on the stretcher, further inscribed “Blackpool” on the top edge of the canvas
Provenance:The Pissarro family collection at The Brook, Stamford Brook, until 1949; W.S.Meadmore (gift from Orovida Pissarro); ; Private Collection, England, from Mrs Meadmore; sale, Christies 11th November 1988 (lot 322) £23,100 to Lane Fine Art (inventory 3901B) from whom acquired by the present owner December 1988
Exhibited: Grafton Gallery 1916 number 142; Dunstable House, Richmond, 1918 (no catalogue); Leicester Galleries, London, 1950 number 12.
Literature: Anne Thorold, A catalogue of the oil paintings of Lucien Pissarro (Athelney Books, London. 1983) page 96 catalogue number 158
Lucien Camille Pissarro (1863–1944) was born in Paris on 20 February 1863, the eldest of the eight children of the impressionist painter (Jacob Abraham) Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) and Julie Vellay (1838–1926). His father, though born in the Virgin Islands, was a Jew of Franco-Portuguese stock; his mother, who married Camille Pissarro in Croydon, Surrey, in June 1871, was French, from Burgundy.
Apart from December 1870 to June 1871, when Camille Pissarro sought refuge from the Franco-Prussian War in Upper Norwood, near London, Lucien Pissarro grew up in France. From 1878 until 1882 he worked in the Paris office of an English textile firm but showed little aptitude for business. In 1883 he stayed in London for a few months to learn English. He visited museums and exhibitions, contemplated enrolling at the Slade School of Fine Art, was dismayed by the works shown at the Royal Academy annual exhibition and delighted by the graphic art of Charles Keene, and met his future wife, Esther Bensusan (1870–1951). He spent a further three months in London early in 1884, before going to Eragny, the village in Normandy where his father and his family moved in April.
Working alongside Camille Pissarro over the next six years, Lucien laid a solid foundation for his painting. His mentors were his father's friends and colleagues: Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin. With his father, Georges Seurat, and Paul Signac he was party to the evolution of pointillism, the technique of painting in meticulously juxtaposed dots of different colours and tones to express divisionist colour theories. He showed paintings in this style at the eighth and last impressionist group exhibition in Paris in 1886.
Meanwhile, Pissarro developed his skills as a wood-engraver under the guidance of Auguste Lepère. In 1886 several issues of La Revue Illustrée included his work in black and white. From 1887 to 1890, working at Manzi's art-publishing firm in Paris, he learned the techniques of making and printing colour blocks. However, his forthright style influenced by Keene was not especially admired in Paris where more finely worked prints were in vogue.
In November 1890 Lucien Pissarro settled in London, encouraged by the revival of wood-engraving and book and type design by William Morris and others within the English arts and crafts movement. Although he continued to pay long visits to Normandy, the balance tipped in favour of commitment to his life and work in England. He married Esther Bensusan, daughter of a City merchant, at the register office in Richmond, London, on 11 August 1892. Their only child, Orovida—who also became a painter—was born in October 1893. After Pissarro's lecture in 1891 to the Art-Workers' Guild entitled ‘Impressionism in art’, he was sought out by Walter Sickert and Philip Wilson Steer. However, instead of exploiting his impressionist pedigree to build his contacts with painters in London, he concentrated on developing an independent career as an illustrator and printer. His introduction in 1890 to Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, who had invited him to contribute woodcuts to The Dial (founded by Ricketts in 1889), was crucial. In 1894 he and his wife established the Eragny Press at their cottage in Epping, Essex, and he published his first illustrated book, The Queen of the Fishes by Margaret Rust, with a handwritten text reproduced from line blocks. In 1896 he published The Book of Ruth and Esther, printed—as were his next fourteen books—in the Vale typeface created by Ricketts. After moving to The Brook in Stamford Brook, west London, in 1902, he designed his own Brook typeface and used it for the sixteen books published between 1903 and 1914, the year in which the Eragny Press closed. During twenty years at the Eragny Press he produced thirty-one fine books uniquely distinguished by their illustrations and initial letters in which the combination of firm contour, taut composition, and delicate colour enriched with gold leaf recalls the art of medieval illumination.
Lucien Pissarro's career as a painter proceeded more fitfully. During the 1890s, in France at Eragny and at home in Epping, he produced some especially vigorous paintings. However, after suffering three strokes in 1897 he painted little until 1903, when he accompanied his father to Le Havre on what was to be their last working trip together. With Camille Pissarro's death in November of that year, the marvellously instructive and moving correspondence between father and son about art and life on both sides of the English Channel necessarily terminated. This bereavement may also have persuaded Lucien to throw himself more energetically into the art life of London. He first exhibited with the New English Art Club in 1904, was elected a member in 1906, and thereafter remained a faithful contributor to its exhibitions. In the autumn of 1907 he joined the group of painters who, led by Sickert, congregated on Saturdays to discuss, exhibit, and sell their work at 19 Fitzroy Street. His role as mentor to this group was defined by Sickert:
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 as a guide, or, let us say, a dictionary of theory and practice on the road we have elected to travel. (‘Whitechapel’, New Age, 28 May 1914)
In February 1913 Pissarro moved down to Devon, where he stayed at the Mill, Blackpool, near Dartmouth, on an estate by the coast which belongs to the Newman family, English Baronets and landowners who had made their fortune in Oporto in the wine trade. He was joined there by James Brown from 16th April, and his daughter Orovida also spent time painting with them. These Spring and early Summer months were productive for Lucien, as sketched busily, producing at least ten finished oil paintings of the beautiful countryside, with its deeply wooded valleys, around Blackpool.
Pissarro disliked Sickert, as a man and as an artist. Soon after his return from Devon he resigned from the London Group before its first exhibition, in March 1914, and in June celebrated his secession with an exhibition at the Carfax Gallery held jointly with several disciples, including James Bolivar Manson. In 1919, again with Manson, he established the more congenial Monarro Group to represent those artists who derived inspiration from the leaders of French impressionism, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro.
After the closure of the Eragny Press in 1914, Pissarro devoted more time to painting. Over his lifetime, his technique and style remained consistent in its impressionist derivation. Using a palette of fresh, clean colours, he painted over 550 landscapes of England and France in a close-textured web of separated brushmarks, representing light, shadow, and local colour. From 1914 until his death in 1944 he kept a catalogue of all his paintings, recording what he painted, and where and when. He was confined to England during the First World War and in 1916 took British nationality. After the war he usually spent the winter months in France, venturing south after 1922. In 1929 he bought a farmhouse in Toulon. His paintings became less densely worked, drier in texture, and chalkier in colour; and he abjured varnish.
Pissarro's landscapes were widely admired during his lifetime. In 1913 Frank Rutter, the influential critic and founder of the Leeds art collection fund, bought Well Farm Bridge, Acton (1907), a painting of a railway cutting reminiscent of Camille Pissarro's Lordship Lane, Upper Norwood (1871); the painting was acquired by the Leeds City Art Gallery in 1925. From 1922 the Leicester Galleries in London regularly showed his work. The Manchester City Art Gallery arranged an important touring exhibition in 1935.
After some years of declining health, Lucien Pissarro died on 10 July 1944 at Hill Cottage, Hewood, Dorset, where he had lived since 1940. He was survived by his wife. A memorial exhibition was held at the Leicester Galleries in 1946 and the Arts Council of Great Britain organized a centenary retrospective in 1963. Works by Lucien Pissarro are in the Tate collection, the more important regional galleries, and in public collections abroad.1