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(en) Britain, *Organise! #62 - Culture: CAMILLE PISSARRO

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 6 Mar 2005 08:47:32 +0100 (CET)

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At the end of the nineteenth century, anarchist ideas had a notable influence
not just among workers but also in literary and artistic circles in France.
Many were the writers and painters who enthused at the idea of social revolution.
For certain of them, it was no more than a fashion; they abandoned their ideal when
success and fortune came. But others stayed faithful all their lives to anarchism.
Among them, one finds Camille Pissarro, the hundredth anniversary of whose death
was celebrated in 2003.
He was born on St. Thomas, a Caribbean island that was then a Danish possession.
His father was a Jewish tradesman of Portuguese origin. He thought that his son
would follow him in business, but Camille profited from the visit to St. Thomas of
the Danish painter Fritz Melbye and
followed him to Venezuela. He started
painting landscapes, flora and fauna.
In 1855 at Paris, he took a course in fine
arts, without much enthusiasm. He was a
pupil of Corot and was influenced by the
realism of Courbet. In 1857, at the Swiss
academy, he met the future impressionists
Monet, Renoir and Cezanne who became
his friends.
In 1870, the Franco-Prussian war obliged
him to flee to England. He left behind
him 1,500 canvasses which were destroyed
by the soldiers. The paintings of
Constable and turner influenced him.
Returning to France, he painted at
Louveciennes and at Pontoise, often with
Cezanne. His painting became more and
more airy, close to that of Monet. His
paintings presented the life and work of


Today, crowds descend in mass on each
new Impressionist exhibition. But, in that
period, intolerance towards novelty was
incredible. In 1874, Monet, Pissarro,
Sisley, Renoir, Cezanne and Degas
organised an exhibition. All the press
ridiculed them. Le Figaro notably wrote:
"They opened an exhibition which they
said was of painting...5 or 6 mad people,
including a woman, met there. These so-
called artists took canvasses, colour and
brushes, threw several tones around
haphazardly and signed the lot". In
derision, they were called impressionists.
Three years later, they proudly claimed
this description.
Despite the interest of several art dealers
and collectors, it was difficult to sell the
paintings. Pissarro had to produce a lot to
support his family (he had 7 children).
Often he could not buy his painting
material. His material situation did not ge
better until 1879. In 1884, when he was
living at Eragny-sur-Epte an exhibition of
his paintings was very successful in the
United States.
Pissarro was already aware of anarchist
ideas. If he preferred the Republic to a
restoration of the monarchy, his letters
show that he had no illusions about
politicians. As an artist of the avant-garde,
he was disgusted by bourgeois society. He
refused authority and exalted the
individual. Anarchism permitted him to
explain his own concept of beauty. The
reading of the works of Kropotkin,
Proudhon and Grave convinced him of
the need for social revolution.
On the technical level, he drew close for a
short period to the method of Seurat and
Signac (himself an anarchist) and adopted
the principle of systematic division
(pointillism or neo-impressionism).
Despite numerous criticisms, from 1890
his exhibitions were a great success and th
value of his paintings rose.
You do not find open declarations of
anarchism in the painting of Pissarro. His
work consists of landscapes above all, and
several portraits and still lifes. After 1890
he also realised wide views of urban sites
(Paris and Rouen). For him the villages
and fields are a representation of Utopia
and had to be protected for the future
society from industrialisation.
Pissarro participated in the Club de l'art
social (The social art club) in 1899
alongside the sculptor Rodin, and the
anarchist militants Grave, Pouget and
Louise Michel. He was a partisan of art fo
art's sake. "All the arts are anarchist!
When they are beautiful and fine!" He wa
not favourable to art with a social message
Unlike Kropotkin in his book The
Conquest of Bread he did not think it was
necessary to be a peasant to render the
poetry of the fields in paintings. He wante
to share the liveliest emotions with his
fellows. For him a beautiful piece of art
was an attack on bourgeois taste. Pissarro
was an optimist who saw an anarchist
future soon to come, where people, freed
from religious and capitalist ideas, could
appreciate his art.

Anarchist art

In 1890 he realised an album of 28 quick
pen sketches for two of his nieces. Entitle
`Les Turpitudes Sociales'; they mercilessly
depict Money, the Stock exchange,
Capital, religion, the Bosses, Wage slavery,
Poverty, Hunger and Suicide. Hope is
represented by a barricade scene and by a
sketch where an old philosopher watches a
sun rising over the letters of the word
Pissarro was not a violent man but he
understood the reasons for the anarchist
bomb attacks of the 1880s. After the
assassination of President Carnot by
Caserio, Pissarro had to take refuge in
Belgium, like the anarchist men of letters
Octave Mirbeau and Bernard Lazare,
from the repression against anarchism.
There he met the anarchist geographer
Elisee Reclus and the poet Emile
Verhaeren. His moral and financial
support towards victims of repression was
important. He helped the children of
imprisoned anarchists, Emile Pouget, and
Italian comrades in exile. He regularly
paid off the debts of the newspapers of
Jean Grave, La Revolte and Les Temps
Nouveaux .
His friend Jean Grave founded Les Temps
Nouveaux in 1895. This newspaper was
regularly published up to 1914. Many
artists favourable to anarchism contributed
to it: Luce, Cross, Signac, Van
Rysselberghe, Aristide Delannoy,
Valloton, Steinlen, etc. Pissarro only
contributed 3 lithographs but his financial
support was very regular. He encouraged
his sons, Lucien, Georges and Rodo, all
artists themselves, to send their own
drawings to the paper. He also gave some
of his works as prizes in lotteries organised
to support the paper.
During the anti-Semitic hysteria
surrounding the Dreyfus affair, he
struggled against injustice and anti-
Semitism alongside Octave Mirbeau and
Maximilien Luce, but broke with Degas
and Renoir who took opposing positions.
The above article was adopted from one by
Felip Equy in the French anarchist paper Le
Monde libertaire.
* Buletin of AF - Anarchist Federation - Britain

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