Lecture: ‘Pissarro and His Artistic Family in London and Grayshott’ – 7th September 2017

French Impressionist Painters in England

At our first meeting after the summer break, Nicholas Reed gave, what for many of us, was a revelatory insight into the work of Camille Pissarro and his children. Indeed seventeen artists, over three generations, were descended from him.

Nicholas began by explaining the events that brought Camille to England in 1870. Having been born in St Thomas in the West Indies into a Jewish, Franco-Portuguese family; at age twelve he was sent to boarding school in France. There his appreciation of the French art masters fostered his love of drawing and painting. Unlike many contemporaries, he chose to paint ordinary individuals in everyday settings, in a more realistic style. The start of the Franco-Prussian war prompted him to move his family to Norwood, then on the outskirts of London. Many of the oil paintings in his studio were subsequently destroyed.

He met Monet and saw, in the work of British Landscape Artists, the desirability of painting outdoor rather than in the studio. Unlike Monet who would paint the same scene under different conditions and changed light Camille did different scenes and viewed them differently. The National Gallery’s ‘The Avenue, Sydenham’ is one of a series. At first he led the eye into the central figure then changed it to four different groups of people. In ‘Lordship Lane Station’ and views of ‘The Crystal Palace’ the suburban buildings are given the same attention as the Palace. He returned to France but visited again in 1890 and 1892. Staying in Kew Green he did a series of paintings of Kew Gardens and views from the balcony of his flat. Visiting in 1897 he did several paintings around Bedford Park. His eye problem meant he would often paint looking out from a window or balcony rather than outdoors. Temporarily he embraced the techniques of Seurat and Pointilism but later abandoned Neo-Impressionism.

His eldest son, Lucien, taught by his father settled in London in 1890. After marrying, he moved to Epping in 1892. Their daughter Orovida would carry on the artistic tradition. Following a stroke in 1897 Lucien moved to Bedford Park and in 1902 to The Brook in nearby Stamford Brook Road. Like his father, he would paint ordinary people and ordinary life, the same scene from different directions and work outdoors or from a window. However, unlike Camille, he included large figures in the foreground. He was attracted by the work of William, Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement and almost became a member of the Camden Town Group. He too was, for a time, a convert of Seurat. Finding it hard to sell his paintings, he rented the Stamford Brook house and visited various parts of England, staying in B&Bs for about a month at a time reaching as far as Westmoreland.

He painted 56 Essex scenes and 30 to 40 in the Dorset area. In 1916 he stayed in Cold Harbour. His painting of ‘Ivy Cottage’ shows his landlady walking through the snow. He painted more snow scenes than Camille and these show Monet’s influence. Lots of his paintings are of Chiswick and Richmond but in autumn 1925 he visited Ruffetts in Grayshott and painted the house and ‘Footpath in November, Greyshott’ giving a very local affinity to his work as do his view of Storrington and ‘All Saints’ Church, Hastings’. The family bequest to the Ashmolean means a lot of his portraits of family, box files and letters can be found in the Pissarro Room there.