PISSARRO’S PEOPLE – Stunning collection now at the Legion of Honor, through 1/22

Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

PISSARRO’S PEOPLE brings us face to face with one of the most complex and captivating members of the Impressionist group, a man whose life was as quietly revolutionary as his art. Now through January 22nd, the exhibition offers a groundbreaking perspective on Camille Pissarro (1830–1903), the painter and printmaker best known for his large body of landscapes and urban views. This is the first exhibition to focus on Pissarro’s personal ties and social ideas through his life-long engagement with the human figure.

“I’d like to think that Pissarro would feel very at home in San Francisco”, said museum curator, James Ganz. “I think, when you get to know Pissarro – and his politics, especially – I think Pissarro would be very happy to be here in San Francisco. The exhibition looks at a very particular aspect of his work that hasn’t been seen before. I think one of the really exciting things about this show is the the number of works that have rarely been shown in the U.S. You’ll see paintings which, in some cases, haven’t been publicly accessible or publicly shown in decades. There are quite a number of works from private collections. All I can do is tip my hat to Rick Brettell for pulling all of these wonderful works together. It’s a real challenge when they’re out there hidden away in private collections.”
Click here to order tickets on-line: PISSARRO’S PEOPLE


Detail – Self Portrait with Hat. 1903.
Photos, S.M.

Based on extensive new scholarship by curator Dr. Richard R. Brettell, the exhibition brings together over 100 oil paintings and works on paper from public and private collections around the world. Ranging from Pissarro’s earliest years in Paris until his death in 1903, these works explore the three dimensions of his life that are essential to a full understanding of the human element in his art: his family ties, his friendships and his intense intellectual involvement with the social and political theories of his time.


Portrait of Rodo Pissarro Reading (the Artist’s Son). 1899-1900.


Minette, 1872. And detail.

According to Brettell, “Scholars have tended to treat Pissarro’s ‘politics’ and his ‘art’ in two separate categories, often refusing to see the most basic connections between them. This is largely because Pissarro was less a political activist than a social and economic philosopher. The title of the exhibition, Pissarro’s People, is not merely an allusion to his politics, but points to a larger attempt to explore all aspects of his humanism. The exhibition embodies his pictorial humanism and creates a series of contexts, linking his web of family and friends to his profound social and economic concerns.”


Presiding over the powerful themes of this exhibition are three of the artist’s four major self-portraits, starting with his earliest Self-Portrait (1873) from the Musée d’Orsay painted at the age of forty-three. Pissarro’s People is the first exhibition to bring these works together with portrait likenesses of every member of the artist’s immediate family, reflecting the importance that he attached to his roles as devoted husband and father.


Detail – Child with Drum. 1877.

Pissarro was the only Impressionist who made figure paintings in which the domestic worker is the central motif. The exhibition brings together an extraordinary group of paintings representing maidservants and washerwomen including The Maidservant (1875, Chrysler Museum of Art), Washerwoman, Study (1880, Metropolitan Museum of Art), The Little Country Maid (1882, Tate Collection), and In the Garden at Pontoise: A Young Woman Washing Dishes (1882, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). The key theme of domestic labor is linked, in turn, to Pissarro’s views on agricultural labor and the market economy in works such as The Harvest (1882, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo), The Gisors Market (1887, Columbus Museum of Art) and his remarkable, biting album of anarchist drawings titled Les turpitudes sociales (1889–90, private collection) which is being shown for the first time.

Pissarro held firm to the belief that the miseries of modern capitalist society would inevitably lead to revolution in Europe, and in his late multi-figure rural genre paintings, he envisioned a better world as he imagined it would appear in the aftermath of such a momentous uprising. His late scenes of the grain harvest in Haymakers, Evening, Éragny (1893, Joslyn Art Museum), apple picking in Apple Harvest (1888, Dallas Museum of Art) and potato planting are utterly joyous in feeling, bathed in an idealized glow of light and health and abundance.


Detail – Haymakers, Evening, Éragny, 1893.

Pissarro was in many ways a political and ethnic outsider in his adopted country of France. Born into a Sephardic Jewish family on the Danish colony of Saint Thomas in the Caribbean on July 10, 1830, he would never become a French citizen. He died a Danish citizen in Paris on November 13, 1903.

Pissarro’s lifelong interest in the human condition is unique among Impressionist landscape painters. From his early years in the Caribbean and Venezuela until his death, he produced a vast oeuvre of drawings, paintings and prints dedicated to the human figure. He was also a committed reader of radical social, political and economic theory. His profound knowledge of social philosophy, which informs much of his art, far exceeded that of any other significant painter of the period.


Jeanne Holding a Fan.1874. And detail.


Detail – Jeanne Pissarro, called Minette, Sitting in the Garden, Pontoise. 1872.



By Dr. Richard R. Brettell

Camille Pissarro’s lifelong interest in the human condition is unique among Impressionist landscape painters. From his early years in the Caribbean and Venezuela until his death in Paris in 1903, he produced a vast oeuvre of drawn, painted, and printed figures. He was also a committed reader of radical social, political, and economic theory, including the writings of French protoanarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, friends such as Jean Grave and Elisee Reclus, and the great anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin. His profound knowledge of social philosophy, which informs much of his art, far exceeded that of any other significant painter of the period. From intimate studies of family and friends to scenes of bustling markets and rural harbor, Pissarro used his work to suggest the realities of everyday life as well as his visions of a harmonious world after the revolution.



Dr. Richard R. Brettell is one of the worldʼs foremost authorities on Impressionism and French painting from 1830 to 1930. Richly illustrated with more than two hundred paintings, works on paper and archival images, this compelling volume offers a definitive portrait of one of the most passionately political painters of the nineteenth century. Available in the Museum Stores for $65 hardback and $39.95 paperback.
Click here to order on-line: PISSARRO’S PEOPLE


The Sentinel’s own editor Sean Martinfield is interviewed by David Perry on Comcast. Catch the Action!
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“XERXES” – At San Francisco Opera
RICHARD SERRA DRAWING – At the SF Museum of Modern Art through January 16th
CD Release: “Feels Like Home”, The Celtic Tenors ★★★★
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