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.
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.