Childhood and Early Life
His birth date was the 10th of July 1830, in Charlotte Amalie of St. Thomas island, a member of the home that included Abraham Gabriel Pissarro, a Portuguese Jewish descendent and Rachel Manzana-Pomie, a descendent of the Creole family. His father, who was a merchant from France who visited the island to assist in the settlement of an estate for his uncle who died and eventually got married to the widow of his uncle’s.
The wedding of his parents however was not received well by the tiny Jewish community on the island on which they resided. In the end, the family of four were required to attend a school for all black children instead of the nearby Jewish school.
He emigrated to France when he was twelve years old age to go to the “Savary Academy” in Passy. While a student, he started to show interest with the work of his French instructors in the field of art. Following his return back to his home island St. Thomas he was appointed freight clerk for his dad. However, his passion was with the fine arts. While he was in the position, the clerk never missed an opportunity to draw and paint during breaks and even after working hours.
He was influenced to paint by Danish painter Fritz Melbye who became his instructor as well as urged him to take up painting professionally. After 1852, he gave the job up and departed to Venezuela in which he worked alongside Fritz Melbye for the next two years as an artist in La Guaira and Caracas.
The year 1855 saw him came back to Paris and began working with Anton Melbye, brother of Fritz. He attended numerous universities like the ‘Academie Suisse’ as well as the ‘Ecole des Beaux Arts’. He also studied under the likes of Charles-Francois Daubigny, Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
The Paris Salon’s annual exhibit served as a platform to allow young emerging artists to get proper exposure. This is why he re-tuned his earlier work in a standard way to ensure that they met the standards set of the salon’s official organization. The first of his paintings was displayed in 1859, where he presented himself as a pupil at the school of Anton Melbye.
He went under the tutelage of landscape and portrait artist cum printmaker Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot who inspired him to capture the rural and natural essence of life in his canvas, the so called ‘Plein air’ painting. He was also inspired by the work of Gustave Courbet and Jean-Francois millet.
The following year, he left Paris and traveled to his surroundings along the Oise, Marne and Seine rivers, to capture the rural atmosphere in his art. While Corot prefers to add the final touch to his painting at home, Pissarro would complete it on location, which gave a more realistic look in his work. The differences in style, however, caused a rift between both.
He was a part of the group of art painters Paul Cezanne, Armand Guillaumin and Claude Monet in 1859 at the Academy Suisse, who were in favor of a naturalistic style in painting that used natural settings such as Pissarro. They resisted the guidelines imposed by the Salon.
In 1863 The Salon did not approve of the majority of artworks by the group. The Emperor at the time of France, Napoleon III arranged that their works exhibit in the Salon des Refuses’ room. The show featured paintings by Pissarro as well as Paul Cezanne only but failed to attract much interest either from the public or from the Salon.
In the 1865 and 1866 shows of Salon He included name of Camille Corot and Anton Melbye as his instructors in the catalogue , however in 1868, he was able to establish himself as an artist who was self-employed, without citing anyone.
His family relocated from the city of Norwood in England after the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune in 1870 and 1871. He, along with Claude Monet examined works of English landscape artists in art museums and created a series of landscape paintings that covered the surrounding area of Crystal Palace and Norwood.
The artist came back his home in Louveciennes within a few months to discover that the majority of his 1500 works that comprised 20 decades of work had been destroyed, leaving just 40.
He moved to Pontoise in 1871. established himself his home in Pontoise and stayed for the remainder of 10 years. He soon formed a tight circle, and reestablished his links with his former friends and Impressionist painters like Monet, Cezanne, Manet, Degas and Renoir. He argued for the way they painted by presenting a different version of Salon.
In this quest In 1873, he assisted in the formation of a society called ‘Societe anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, and Graveurs’, which was comprised fifteen artists. The charter for the group was drafted by the artist .He was a key player in establishing and directing the group, and was frequently called “Father Pissarro” by a lot of his associates.
The first “Impressionist” Exhibition from the group took place in 1874 and was met with criticism from critics. The same thing happened for a short time and Pissarro was a target of criticism of his work.
He explored a variety of themes and styles in his work. He also at some point, he began studying Neo-Impressionist styles in the 1880s. He also embraced a novel technique, the pointillist style of the post-impressionist painter Georges Seurat and his contemporary Paul Signac after meeting them in 1885.
His latest paintings shown at his 1886 Impressionist Exhibition were remarkably different from the earlier Impressionist works. But, at an earlier stage, he shifted to a more Neo-Impressionist style of art.
As a result of a constant eye infection during his older stage of life, the outdoor pursuits was hindered, and he opted for various hotels with higher levels, which would allow him a better view of his artwork.
Personal Life & Legacy
He began a romance with his maid mother Julie Vellay who was the daughter of a wine grower. They had the first child Lucien in 1863. Then in 1871 they tied the knot in London.
They had 8 children, of which one of them died when they were born. The children of the couple were all painters of which Lucien, Georges Henri Manzana and Felix were Impressionist and Neo-impressionist artists. Orovida Pissarro, his grand-daughter from Lucien was also a painter.
He was killed on either November 12 or 13 November 1903, in Eragny-sur-Epte and was interred at Paris in the ‘Pere-Lachaise Cemetery’ where his grave shows the date as November 12 1903.
A lot of his descendants by his wife Jeanne Pissarro were artists including Henri-Bonin-Pissarro, Claude-Bon and Frederick Bonin-Pissarro. Joachim Pissarro, his great-grandson is an art historian and was a member of the ‘Museum of Modern Art within New York City as a curator of painting and sculpture. Joachim is currently professor in the Art Department of the ‘Hunter College’.