Exposition au musée

Cézanne and Pissarro 1865-1885

From February 28th to May 28th, 2006
Camille Pissarro
Portrait de l'artiste, en 1873
Musée d'Orsay
1930, accepté par l'Etat à titre de donation sous réserve d'usufruit de Paul-Emile Pissarro (comité du 03/04/1930, conseil du 07/04/1930 )
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
See the notice of the artwork
Camille Pissarro-Louveciennes
Camille Pissarro
Louveciennes, 1871
Private collection
© R.R.

First meeting
One day in 1863, Frédéric Bazille was on his way to the studio he shared with Renoir in Batignolles. He was accompanied by two other painters whose acquaintance he had just made. On entering the studio, Bazille called out to Renoir: "I have brought along two fine recruits!". Certainly he did not know then how true these words would prove to be, for these "fine recruits" were none other than Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro. From that day on, they would share the adventure of those artists who would become the "Impressionists", and they would take part in the group's first exhibition in 1874, at the studio of the photographer Nadar.

Paul Cézanne-Louveciennes
Paul Cézanne
Louveciennes, vers 1872
Collection particulière, avec l'aimable autorisation de Wildenstein & Co.
© DR

Cézanne and Pissarro had first met two years previously, at the Académie de Charles Suisse in Paris. Soon a close bond of friendship and collaboration developed between the two artists. Cézanne found in Pissarro the same rejection of tradition and academic training which characterised his own work. He later wrote about his friend: "He had the good fortune to be born in the West Indies, where he learned how to draw without masters".
Pissarro, too, immediately recognised Cézanne's genius. In a letter to his son Lucien, he recalled: "It was such an inspiration when in 1861, Oller and I went to see Cézanne at the Académie Suisse. That strange Provençal was painting academic studies that were the laughing stock of all those sterile students in the school...".
For more than twenty years, until 1885, Cézanne and Pissarro were to work and experiment together, forming a genuine "pair" within the Impressionist group.

Camille Pissarro-La Causette, chemin du chou in Pontoise
Camille Pissarro
La Causette, chemin du chou in Pontoise, 1874
Private collection
© R.R.

Similar careers
The friendship that united the two artists has often been explained by the similarity of their careers.
Cézanne was born in 1839 in Aix-en-Provence. His father, a self-made man, hoped that his son would one day take over the family business. He never understood Paul's decision to abandon law school for an artistic career.

Paul Cézanne-The House of the Hanged Man, Auvers-sur-Oise
Paul Cézanne
The House of the Hanged Man, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1873
Paris, Musée d'Orsay, Comte Isaac de Camondo bequest, 1911
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Pissarro came from a family established in Saint-Thomas, a small island in the West Indies which then belonged to Denmark. He was born there in 1830. His father, too, would have liked Camille to take over his business. Opposed to such plans, the young man went into exile in Venezuela where he stayed from 1852 to 1854. This was a time of self-discovery and by the time he returned his decision was made: he would be a painter. Pissarro left for France in 1855, never to return.
So neither artist was in any way destined for an artistic career, and both began their painting careers well away from Paris and classical training. Their collaboration, which was to continue for over twenty years, would prove one of the most fruitful artistic dialogues of the late 19th century.

Camille Pissarro-Portrait of Cézanne
Camille Pissarro
Portrait of Cézanne, 1874
Laurence Graff Collection
© R.R.

The exhibition opens with self-portraits and portraits they made of each other.
Pissarro, nine years older than Cézanne, is already shown as a bearded patriarch. Cézanne's appearance is wilder and more tormented. Each portrayed the other using a variety of techniques: painting, drawing or engraving.
Their portraits and self-portraits, especially those depicting Cézanne, reflect their desire to reject classical attitudes and poses. The poses they adopt reveal their commitment to be "serious workers" as Cézanne put it. To him, this expression meant an artist should work hard but remain free to follow his own path without compromise.
dam width="144" float="left">101294The affection that characterised their relationship in the early 1870s is also clearly expressed in some of these portraits. In a pencil drawing executed circa 1873, Cézanne captured the quiet self-confidence which seemed to emanate from the "humble yet colossal" Pissarro. As for Pissarro, he is known to have kept a portrait of Cézanne he had painted in 1874 for the rest of his life - proof of his affection for his friend.

Camille Pissarro-Still Life; Apples and Oranges in a Round Basket
Camille Pissarro
Still Life; Apples and Oranges in a Round Basket, 1872
Loan from Mme Walter Scheuer
© R.R.

Still life paintings
Attracted by the "silent world", Cézanne and Pissarro turned their attention to still life painting, a genre from which neo-classicist and romantic painters had turned away. Following such artists as Courbet, Fantin-Latour and Manet, Cézanne and Pissarro developed this theme. For certain works executed before 1870, they used the palette knife, a technique inherited from Courbet, where thick layers of paint gave the painting an irregular surface, far removed from the smooth finish customary at the time.
During the 1870s, they produced floral compositions, and experimented with the contrasts in volume and form in compositions with fruit and other objects. One can see evidence in Cézanne's still life paintings of a move towards the spirit of Impressionist painting, which Pissarro had already adopted a few years earlier. His brushstrokes were already becoming lighter and more fragmented. No doubt Pissarro's influence was not unrelated to this evolution, his talent as a teacher being widely noted. Mary Cassatt wrote of him that "he would have taught stones how to paint".
The collaboration which existed between the two painters' works may be seen in certain details in these still life paintings. Cézanne thus portrayed a landscape by Pissarro, Gisors Street, Father Galien's House, in the background of his Still Life with Soup Tureen. The same painting appeared again in the background of the Portrait of Cézanne which Pissarro painted in 1874. This link between three different paintings is a perfect illustration of the dialogue established between the two artists in all genres from portraits to landscapes and still life.

Camille Pissarro-Landscape in L'Hermitage, Pontoise
Camille Pissarro
Landscape in L'Hermitage, Pontoise, 1875
Lugano, Museo Cantonale d'Arte
© Museo Cantonale d'Arte, Lugano

Pontoise and Auvers
At the end of the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, when Pissarro returned to the house he used to occupy in Louveciennes, he discovered that it had been completely looted. This prompted him to settle in Pontoise in 1872. It was there that Cézanne joined him in 1873. In Pontoise and Auvers-sur-Oise, the two artists shared the same motifs: village streets and houses, although they did not work on the same projects. They painted and drew side by side, yet each was keen to assert his own personality. Human figures inhabit Pissarro's paintings while Cézanne's remain empty. As Pissarro put it, "each of us retained the only thing that matters, "his perception of sensation".

Paul Cézanne-Landscape in the Pontoise Surroundings
Paul Cézanne
Landscape in the Pontoise Surroundings, circa 1875-1877
Baden, Switzerland, Langmatt Museum, Stiftung Langmatt Sidney und Jenny Brown
© Langmatt Museum, Baden

Their styles remained distinctive. A peasant who had seen the two artists painting in the open air declared: "Mr Pissarro, dabbed and Mr Cézanne daubed." But under the influence of Pissarro, Cézanne's style evolved: his choice of colours became considerably lighter. The violent contrasts of blacks against whites gave way to lighter colours. Pissarro welcomed this evolution in Cézanne's art. In 1872, he wrote to Guillaumet : "Our Cézanne is giving us much hope [...] I have in my house a painting of remarkable vigour, remarkable strength. If, as I hope, he remains for some time in Auvers, where he is going to take up residence, many artists who condemned him much too hastily will be astonished."

Camille Pissarro-Pontoise, the Hermitage in Summertime
Camille Pissarro
Pontoise, the Hermitage in Summertime, 1877
New York, Helly Nahmad Gallery
© Helly Nahmad Gallery

Several paintings by Pissarro show where his interests lay in the early 1870s.
His tendency to flatten his composition may be seen in certain landscapes by Cézanne, as well as a more even touch and an inclination towards rigorous architectural forms.

Paul Cézanne-Auvers-sur-Oise, Panoramic View
Paul Cézanne
Auvers-sur-Oise, Panoramic View, circa 1875-1876
The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, 1933
© The Art Institute of Chicago

Cézanne shared his new discoveries with Pissarro and sought to attract him towards the light of his native region. During some time spent in L'Estaque in 1876, Cézanne wrote to Pissarro suggesting that he should take an interest in the sea, a subject seldom tackled by the Impressionists: "I believe this area would suit you marvellously [...]. It is like a playing card. Red roofs on a blue sea." The relationship between Cézanne and Pissarro may be defined as an exchange whereby each gave and received. Neither may be said to have been the other's master or disciple.

Camille Pissarro-Pontoise, Vegetable Garden, Trees in Bloom, Spring
Camille Pissarro
Pontoise, Vegetable Garden, Trees in Bloom, Spring, 1877
Paris, Musée d'Orsay, Gustave Caillebotte bequest, 1894
© RMN, Hervé Lewandowski

The late 1870s
In 1877, thanks to Gustave Caillebotte, the third Impressionist exhibition opened. Stung by the criticisms heaped upon him this would be the last Impressionist exhibition in which Cézanne took part. The works by Cézanne and Pissarro shown on this occasion were all landscapes from the Pontoise area.
Pastoral themes dominated their paintings during the late 1870s. If, amongst the impressionists, Monet and Sisley could be considered as "painters of water", Cézanne and Pissarro were rather "painters of the earth".

Paul Cézanne-The Maubuisson Garden, Pontoise
Paul Cézanne
The Maubuisson Garden, Pontoise, 1877
Dallas, Texas, Mr. and Mrs. Jay Pack Collection
© R.R.

Pursuing a common goal, to express the full force of sensation, Cézanne and Pissarro continued their research side by side. They chose simple motifs which gave them more scope to express these feelings on canvas, and they turned away from long-established rules such as those of drawing and outline, in particular.
Yet their works differ in the following way: with Cézanne the spectator is openly invited to observe the way he portrays surfaces. Shapes are simplified and each brushstroke is amplified. His paintings are intense reflections of his method.
With the same objective in view, Pissarro proceeded in a more subtle way, through more delicate contrasts. His style is more regular and homogeneous than Cézanne's.

Camille Pissarro-The Petit Pont,, Pontoise
Camille Pissarro
The Petit Pont,, Pontoise, 1875
Mannheim, Städtische Kunsthalle
© Städtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim

The early 1880s
Between 1880 and 1885, Cézanne reinterpreted several of Pissarro's earlier compositions. For instance he decided to paint the Pont de Maincy which may be considered as a response to a mysterious landscape painted by Pissarro in 1875, Le Petit Pont, Pontoise.

Paul Cézanne-The Pont de Maincy, near Melun
Paul Cézanne
The Pont de Maincy, near Melun, 1879-1880
Paris, Musée d'Orsay, acquired on the arrears of a Canadian anonymous donation, 1955
© RMN, Hervé Lewandowski

This was a period of nostalgia for the master from Aix-en-Provence as he looked back on his youth and on the time spent with Pissarro. He wrote: "Had he a gone on painting as he did in 1870, he would have been the best of us all".
This sentence also indicates that for Cézanne the era of collaboration had ended and that he was then pursuing his course alone.
The attention he gave to the past and to the reinterpretation of works by his friend was thus only a prelude to each artist going his own separate way.

Camille Pissarro-The Orchard, Côte Saint-Denis, in Pontoise (The Côte des Boeufs, Pontoise)
Camille Pissarro
The Orchard, Côte Saint-Denis, in Pontoise (The Côte des Boeufs, Pontoise), 1877
London, The National Gallery
© The National Gallery, London

Separate ways
In the mid 1880s, Cézanne decided to turn his back on the Parisian art world and return definitively to Provence. During the same period, Pissarro joined the Neo-Impressionist group led by Seurat and Signac, and temporarily adopted the pointillist technique.

Paul Cézanne-Pines and Rocks (Fontainebleau  ?)
Paul Cézanne
Pines and Rocks (Fontainebleau  ?), circa 1897
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Lillie P. Bliss Collection
© The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Both men retained an interest in each other's artistic evolution, as well as in their former Impressionist colleagues, as seen by their brief encounter in 1895 in front of Monet's Cathedrals exhibited at Durand-Ruel. That same year, at the major retrospective of Cézanne's work at Vollard's, Pissarro stoutly defended his friend's work: "Stunningly accomplished still lifes, unfinished yet extraordinary in their wildness and singularity."
Cézanne's admiration for Pissarro remained constant throughout the years.
Towards the end of his life, Cézanne wrote to Vollard: "As for old Pissarro, he was a father to me. He was a man to be consulted, rather like God."
For Joachim Pissarro, great-grandson of the artist and curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who first conceived the idea for this exhibition, the relationship between Cézanne and Pissarro is emblematic of the Modern Age, where art questioned tradition and established authority. Their patient experimentation and shared commitment to create a sincere form of painting eventually led to the development of a new pictorial language.