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Father Pissarro – The “Old Man” of the Impressionist Movement

Camille Pissarro was a significant member in the Impressionist movement. He was friend and mentor to some of the world’s most acclaimed artists, including Cezanne and Gaugin, and was among the leaders of an artistic movement that shook the foundations of art world. 

He grew up above his family’s shop in St. Thomas, a Caribbean island. When he reached age 12, his parents sent him off the island to attend school near Paris, where he exhibited  early artistic talent in sketching. He returned to St. Thomas at 17, with his father fully expecting him to join the family business. He chose to abandon his “bourgeois life,” and sailed off to Venezuela with the Danish painter, Fritz Melbye. When in Caracas, he spent his time sketching images of street life. Upon his return home to St. Thomas, his parents gave up and accepted he was dedicated to a life of art. He then left the island and moved to Paris for good.

When he arrived in Paris, Pissarro enrolled in private classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and the Acadamie Suisse, where he met Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne. Through his new connections, met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. He began painting scenes from his home island from memory, and soon began painting landscapes from nature outside Paris. 

Pissarro began to rebel against the standards for art set at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. As he was about ten years older than the younger group of Impressionists such as Monet and Renoir, who called him “Father Pissarro.” The outbreak of the Franco-German war in 1870 led him to move to London. He painted scenes of London landscapes, where he studied the effects light and color of fog, snow, and spring in the environment. 

Lost Paintings

When he returned to Paris at the end of the war, he discovered that most of the work in his studio had been destroyed. He then moved back to Pontoise, in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, on the bank of the Oise River. He gathered a circle of painters, including Cezanne, to whom he taught his painting techniques, changing the artist’s approach, which he openly attributed to Pissarro’s guidance. 

Pissarro, along with other painters of the era, such as Monet, Renoir, worked on forming a cooperative, holding what is now known as the first Impressionist exhibition. At the exhibition, he showed five paintings, in the company of the other notable artists such as Monel, Renoir, Sisley, Cezanne, Degas, and Morisot. This exhibition shook the art world at the time, as rather than adhering to the accepted standards of art, the group was obsessed with the transient effects of light and color, rather than the the idealized compositions or subjects. 

After the exhibition, which was widely panned by the critics of the time, Pissarro was disappointed and chose to return to his work, depressed by the negative reviews of his work, and the death of his young daughter. He continued his quest for recognition for a new approach to art, and along with the other artists, created another alternative way to exhibit their works, called the Union, with a second group exhibition at which he showed 12 paintings, inspiring more criticism. 

Pissarro had a significant influence on his fellow Impressionists that is often underestimated. He had an uncommon ability to maintain friendships with the group of painters who had split into contentious factions. Claude Monet may have been the most prolific painter of the Impressionist style, but it can’t be forgotten that Pissarro was an influential founder of the Impressionist painting techniques.

The Art of Sketching

Drawing has been part human life forever. Whether a sketch of animals carved into cave walls and filled with ashes or natural pigment, a figure sketched into the dirt or sand with a stick by a child, or the plans for a cathedral, tomb, or statue, the art of sketching has been with us since the dawn of time. 

Sketching may be a rough draft for a painting, mosaic, or structure. A sketch is completed quickly to capture an impression, an idea, or a fleeting impression of a person or scene. It is not an effort to create an accurate depiction of the subject, but is a looser, freer drawing style. 

At one time, sketches were not considered to be of great value, but times have changed. Sketches by luminaries such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and others now appear alongside other famous works in museums around the world. A sketch by Raphael, Head of a Young Apostle, sold for $47.8 million at auction. Most of us have seen da Vinci’s sketch of a flying machine or have been lucky enough to see sketches of a great work in a museum. There is something extremely personal and appealing about seeing an artist’s first impressions of a subject rendered in charcoal or pen and ink. 

During the Renaissance, sketching was performed with charcoal, chalks, a quill or reed pen with ink,  or a stylus. A stylus was a thin metal rod made from a softer metal that left a mark, called a silverpoint, leadpoint, goldpoint, or copperpoint. Sketches were drawn on processed animal skins, paper, linen, or canvas. 

The sketches created during this period were used to prepare for a painting, mosaic, tapestry, stained glass, structure plans, or for illustrations. The largest collections of sketches are found at the Louvre, the Uffizi, and the British Museum. There is something very personal that strikes an emotional chord when you see sketches created by a great artist.

Sketches became a popular hobby during the 1800s, with tourists carrying sketchbooks on trips to create impressions of a trip to another city or country. Before photography, and long before the advent of the ever-present smartphone, sketching was the sole way to create visual memories of a journey to a foreign land. People sketched with pencil, crayon, charcoal, pen and ink, or pastels, and tourists carried their impressions home to share with friends and family to relive the experience. 

Women and the art of sketching

Women, over history, had some unusual challenges as artists, as they had no access to nude models, and had fewer opportunities for training. They were excluded from the free training offered at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts until 1897. Many of them sought training from established artists in private studios, which although costly, allowed them to advance their skills. 

Life drawing was denied to women throughout that century, as it was considered it was dangerous for women to see a nude body, which seems amusing now. Many artistic women chose to paint landscapes, portraits, or still life painting. The daughters of the aristocracy were often given art lessons, but no women could attend the Ecole de Beaux-Arts until 1897, when ten women were finally admitted, but even then, they were kept separate from the male students, and excluded from any life drawing. 

Sketching will always be a human pastime, from doodling to sitting down and concentrating to create a depiction of a flower, a street scene, a building, or a person. I love to sketch, and never travel without some supplies to capture images of architecture that calls to me.

Ariel Emrani

The Journey of Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The impressionist movement forever changed how painters created space, form, and light. A group of young artists in the 1800s, including Renoir, broke away from the restrictive classical traditions. These classically trained artists wanted to create art that depicted real life, rather than an idealized version, focusing on how light affected color and form. Renoir is one of my favorite artists, a person who dared to break from tradition and chart a new path, a path that has been a huge influence on present-day modern art in all its forms.

A Gifted Child

Renoir was one of seven children in a family of artisans and revealed his artistic gifts early. At 13, he began working in a porcelain factory, decorating plates with flowers, painting fans, and cloth panels with religious themes to sell to missionaries. 

He saved his earnings so he could afford to attend the École des Beaux-Arts, and painting lessons at the studio of a Swiss painter, Charles Gleyre. While becoming proficient in the academic style of painting, he met Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frederic Bazille. The four artists had a shared vision of creating art that reflected a perception of life, without the restrictions imposed by the classical traditions.

Plein Air: Painting from Nature

Renoir began experimenting with a new painting style, and the four friends moved to work at the forest of Fontainebleau, where they painted out-of-doors, directly from nature, rather than the older standard of outdoor sketching and then completing the work in the studio. Their paintings sent shockwaves through the art community and were considered either scandalous or daring. The Impressionists were heavily scorned by art critics and academics. Rather than painting idealized images with symmetrical compositions, Renoir created images of real people. 

Rejected by the Salon de Paris

The Salon de Paris was the most important art event of the time, and Renoir and the other impressionists were not allowed to exhibit their works, causing a public outcry. A new art exhibition was established, called “The Salon de Refuses,” which exhibited the works of the artists rejected by the Salon de Paris. The art critics continued to criticize the Impressionists, with comments like “try to explain to Monsieur Renoir that a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with those purplish-green stains that denote a state of complete putrefaction in a corpse.” One can assume he was referring to Renoir’s early works, such as Lisa with a Parasol, the first painting to bring acclaim. 

Breaking the Mold

Renoir’s art was considered offensive by those who were unable to accept this novel approach to art. It is amazing to consider that a work of art could inspire such rage, controversy, and disgust. The painting is one often seen, a figure of a young actress, dressed in a glowing blue, without the required background, but simply, herself. He painted women in a manner that was considered offensive at the time, with loose hair, and enjoying freedom. 

Renoir was an early leader of the Impressionist movement, but he focused more on the human form over landscapes. His works were of everyday life and people, capturing the effects of both indoor and outdoor light. He gained acceptance to the upper-middle class of society through commissions ordered by a publisher of the era, George Charpentier.

Later in life, Renoir broke from the Impressionist movement, which he had begun to doubt, with his later works showing more discipline in line and less dramatic colors. When he relocated to the South of France for his health, the glowing colors of his Impressionist phase returned. He had developed rheumatism and bound the paintbrush to his hand to continue his work.

Renoir embodied the never-ending quest for perfection, and while once considered a rebel, he lived his art honestly and with integrity, without giving in to outside pressures. Respect.

Ariel Emrani

Favorite Art Museums

Strolling through an art museum and immersing myself in beauty is a favorite pastime. No visit to a city is complete without a trip to the local art museum. Abstracts, Old Masters, Impressionism, classical sculpture, Renaissance – every style and work strike a chord.

Every major city boasts at least one incredible art museum, with some of the most magnificent collections in New York, Los Angeles, Florence, Paris, and London. 

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Situated on the banks of the Seine, across from the Tuileries Gardens, this museum is a visual feast of art from 1848 to 1914 and has one of the most extensive collections of impressionist art in the world. The collection is housed in an architectural wonder built for the 1900 World’s Fair and is breathtaking. As you wander the exhibits, you find works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent Van Gogh, Berthe Morisot, Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, to name just a few.

The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre houses some of the world’s most celebrated artworks, with 35,000 objects displayed in 60,000 square meters. The opportunity to see paintings by Leonardo da Vinci (including the Mona Lisa), Caravaggio, Delacroix, sculpture by Michelangelo, the celebrated Venus de Milo, along with Islamic and Egyptian statuary, works by Vermeer… the list goes on. A trip to the Louvre is not a one-day event! 

The Met, NYC

The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents over 5,000 years of artistic creations from around the globe, from the ancient to the most modern. The collections are extensive, and include African art, American art, Ancient Near Eastern Art, Arms and Armor collections Ancient American art, Asian art, Costumes, Egyptian art, European art, Greek and Roman art, Islamic art, medieval and Byzantine art, modern and contemporary art, and a collection of about 5,000 musical instruments, and that just scratches the surface of the experience.

The Guggenheim, NYC

The building housing the collection is a masterpiece designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, first opening in 1959, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Solomon R. Guggenheim had a passion for abstract and contemporary art and founded the museum now bearing his name. Discover works by Cezanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Degas, Picasso, Franz Marc, Pissarro, and countless other artists. 

The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The Uffizi Gallery is world-renowned, housing massive collection of the world’s finest masterpieces since 1765. The building was designed by Giorgio Vasari, a painter, architect, engineer, writer, and historian, in 1560 for Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, as offices for the Florentine magistrates, and the word “Uffizi” means “offices.” Imagine standing in front of “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli and drinking in the beauty or seeing Michelangelo’s David in all its massive glory. Wander the galleries and experience treasures by da Vinci, Caravaggio, Titian, and a massive sculpture gallery that seems to extend as far as the eye can see. 

The Getty, Los Angeles

The Getty Museum sits atop a hill where you can view the expanse of Los Angeles. The collection of paintings is over four hundred notable European works created before 1900, including the Italian Renaissance, 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings, along with art from Rembrandt, Manet, Van Gogh, Rubens, and Degas, and exhibits of Dada, Surrealist, and Fluxus artworks. 

Norton Simon, Pasadena

In Pasadena, the Norton Simon collection of European paintings and sculpture spans times from the Renaissance to 20th-century works. This museum houses one of the finest collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art on the West Coast. Enjoy works by Botticelli, Giorgione, Raphael, Rembrandt, Goya, and other Old Masters as you wander the galleries.

LACMA, Los Angeles

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, has collections of contemporary jewelry, Latin American Contemporary Art, fashions from 1900 to 2000, Greek ceramic, contemporary Middle Eastern art, modern Mexican and Peruvian Silver, Spanish Colonial art, woodcuts, African art, Chinese art, Egyptian art, along with European art and sculpture, Greek, Roman and Etruscan art, Japanese art, Korean art, and modern art. It is well worth planning to spend a day musing at the creativity of humankind across the ages. 

The Muses: Goddesses of Art and Science

The word “museum” comes from the Greek, and meant “seat of the muses,” and used to refer to an institution or place of contemplation, place of study, or school of art or poetry. The muses were nine goddesses from Greek and Roman mythology who were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who presided over the arts and sciences, and has now come to mean a person or force that inspires the creative arts. 

Ariel Emrani

“Paris is always a good idea.”

There is no question – Paris is one of my favorite places in the world. The architecture, the food, the history, and the beautiful French people combined lead to an unforgettable journey. Parisians are a rare breed, and while I have heard that some tourists consider the French to be less friendly, I have never found this to be the case – they have the right to be immensely proud of their city and its unique culture. Respect the culture, and you’ll make friends.

Visit Paris when you can and do your best to learn a few words and phrases in French. Unlike some European cities, you cannot expect everyone to speak English, or even be willing to! 

We Owe Our Freedom to the French!

During the American Revolution, it is unlikely that the Continental Army would have survived without the help of the French, who supplied supplies, arms, and ammunition to the troops from 1778 to 1882. Benjamin Franklin was involved, starting with his first trip to Paris in 1776 and then meeting with a secret envoy, sowing the seeds of a relationship between the revolutionaries, even before formal treaties in 1778. 

Historians estimate that about 12,000 French soldiers served on the rebel forces, along with 22,000 naval personnel on 63 French warships. Without the aid of the French, it is unlikely that the revolution would have been successful, and the United States would have never existed. So, when you go to Paris, you are mingling with a culture that values freedoms – just like we do.

Let’s Talk French Food

French cuisine – fantastic. Every dish is built with fresh ingredients and focused on bringing out the flavors of the ingredients. Aspiring chefs travel from countries all over the globe to be trained in French cooking techniques. The first French cookbook was published in 1651, the start of an avalanche that continues today. Called the “Chef of Kings,” Auguste Escoffier is credited with bringing “haute cuisine” to the modern world, along with efficiency in restaurant kitchens. Nouvelle Cuisine (translation – “new kitchen”) appeared in the 1960s and 70s, a style of cooking that stressed freshness, lightness, and flavor, with a Japanese influence on presentation. Eating out in Paris will not just satisfy your hunger – it is an aesthetic experience! 

Stunning Architecture – the Old and the New

We have all seen countless images of the Eiffel Tower, but nothing compares to seeing its artful lines in person. It was created for the 1889 “Exposition Universelle,” a holiday commemorating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. Fifty engineers and designers were involved. But the Eiffel Tower is just one of literally thousands of stunning architectural wonders you will encounter in Paris, any time you take a walk. Who would have thought an entire city could be designed collectively but with variety of shape and detail and yet all brought together by the consistent roof design? Not only is Paris the birthplace of Gothic architecture, it has important monuments throughout of Renaissance style as well as collaboration with Russia (the Pont Alexandre III). 

French Fashion – The Ultimate in Design

French fashion has ruled the world since the 15th century. The courts across Europe tried their best to keep up with the French court, and the tradition continues to this day, with Paris known as the global fashion capital of the world. Shopping in Paris is an unforgettable experience. Whether you choose to enter a small shop or enjoy the Champs-Elysees where you can find iconic brands like Chanel, Dior, Cartier, and Van Cleef Arpels.