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Springtime with Pissarro

May 7th, 2018

This painting is rectangular in shape. Its springtime scene is dominated by poplar trees, slim brown and green trunks of various heights that stretch vertically up into the sky. They are still waking up from their winter rest; daubs of rusty orange and mauves suggest trees that haven’t put forth their spring green leaves yet. In the lower left foreground, six small bushier trees are lined up in front of the poplars. Beside them, in the lower centre, a man bends over, holding an spade and working a garden that stretches out before him. Bright lime green grass dominates the lower half of the painting, interrupted by a curving stream. The background features a cloudy sky running along the top of the painting, met by a pale bluey mauve band of colour representing perhaps a forest that lies beyond the poplars.

Camille Pissarro, French, 1830–1903. Peupliers, temps gris, Éragny (Springtime, Grey Weather, Éragny), 1895. Oil on canvas, 61 x 74.4 cm. Bequest of Frederic William Gerald Fitzgerald, 1949.

Introducing a new blog series, A Closer Look, where we examine a work in the AGO Collection.

What’s that warm feeling outside? Could it be? Spring has finally arrived! The tulips and daffodils are popping up, the buds are about to burst on the trees and gardeners are pulling out their rakes. What a perfect moment to take a close look at the beautiful Pissarro painting, Peupliers, temps gris, Éragny (Springtime, Grey Weather, Éragny).

Farm Life

With its lime green grasses, curving stream and trees daubed in pinky mauves, this work feels like a breath of fresh air. The setting is Pissarro’s farm in Éragny, France – this is a view from his studio window. A working farm that provided food and a bit of income for the family, Pissarro moved there in 1884 and stayed for the rest of his life. To buy the farm, he borrowed money from friend and fellow Impressionist painter Claude Monet, who had been much more commercially successful. This is one of three canvases Pissarro sold in April 1895, and he instructed his dealer to send 3,000 francs to Monet to help pay the debt for the farm purchase.

A Painter for the People

The scene is dominated by slim and elegant poplar trees, with a row of smaller trees in the foreground. In the bottom centre, a farm worker turns soil with his spade, prepping the ground for planting. Pissarro’s paintings often feature everyday people going about their work. He tried to portray the importance and dignity of domestic and farm workers. Later in life, Pissarro criticized society’s value of class and wealth, and he associated with socialist anarchist movements.

Papa Pissarro

Although not as famous as his friends Monet or Renoir, many critics consider Pissarro the father of Impressionism. He acted as an elder statesman of the movement, teaching and influencing an entire generation of painters. “We learned everything we do from Pissarro,” artist Paul Cézanne said in the 1890s. “It’s he who was really the first Impressionist.”

Up Close & Personal

Despite the grey weather mentioned in its title, a close viewing of this painting rewards you with a stunning variety of vibrant colour. Visit this and other dreamy scenes on Level One in the Richard Barry Fudger Memorial Gallery, Gallery 125.

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