The Hunterian Pissarro at the Musée Marmottan

Published on: Author: Harriet Gaston Leave a comment

A guest post by Ian Alexander.

The Hunterian Art Gallery is one of my most favourite small galleries in the world and I have been visiting it regularly since the week of its opening. One of the paintings in the collection is part of my research area – the Pissarro painting of Rouen harbour.

Camille Pissarro. Misty Morning, Rouen, 1896.
Camille Pissarro. Misty Morning, Rouen, 1896.

From February 23rd to July 2nd 2017, the Musée Marmottan in Paris organised the first comprehensive exhibition of Camille Pissarros’ paintings in Paris for over 40 years. The exhibition included 60 of the most magnificent masterpieces, all selected with great care, and included Le Matin Brumeux (Misty Morning, Rouen) loaned by The Hunterian in Glasgow. The painting dates from 1896 and was gifted to The Hunterian in 1970 from the Trustees of W. A. Cargill.

Until the early 1890s, Pissarro (1830-1903) focused on rural landscapes, most painted in and around the villages of Eragny, Louveciennes and Pontoise in the Isle de France region. Then from 1892 till his death, there was a complete turnaround with cities now dominating the artist’s output. This urban period coincided with his move back to a purer form of Impressionism after a five year experiment with Post Impressionism. This shift in subject matter helped free him from the ‘science and precision of a pointillist technique’ which he was finding increasingly oppressive.

During that 10 year period Pissarro produced eleven urban series in four French cities; five were based in Paris, three in Rouen, two in Dieppe and one in Le Havre. He painted each one of these canvases, not while sitting or standing with his easil outside but, as a result of recurring eye problems, each was completed from upper floor windows of hotel or apartment rooms.

During this time Pissarro completed over 300 paintings of urban landscapes as well as many drawings and prints. Richard Brettell, from the Dallas Museum of Art, who helped organise an exhibition in 1993, The Impressionist and the City, Pissarro’s Series Paintings, shown in Dallas, Philadelphia and London, claimed that ‘[Pissarro] made the most sustained contribution to urban view painting by any great artist since the death of Canaletto in 1768.’

I am really passionate about the eleven urban series that Pissarro painted in Paris, Rouen, Le Havre and Dieppe between 1892 and 1903. I went to the Pissarro exhibition at Musée Marmottan in Paris in July and The Hunterian painting looked wonderful. In fact it is interesting that paintings often look ‘different’ when seen in another context and with different lighting. At the exhibition in Paris I noticed more than once guides stopping with their groups at The Hunterian Pissarro and speaking about it.

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Ian Alexander is a researcher with a passion for art whose areas of interest include: Pissarro’s urban series; the Cobra artists with a particular interest in Stephen Gilbert; three paintings in the Burrell Collection (Degas portrait of Duranty, Cezanne’s Chateau du Medan and Sisley’s Bell Tower at Noist le Roi); Cy Twombly’s series of paintings of the Battle of Lepanto; Abstract Expressionism and the CIA; Franz Kline, Jazz and Film Noir; Dante, Giotto and the Scrovegni Chapel; Nazi Art Loot.

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