Camille Pissarro was born July 10th, 1830 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
In 1842, Camille’s dad sent him away to a school near Paris and told the headmaster not to let him draw. But the headmaster liked art and, instead of forbidding him to draw, he gave him art lessons.
Pissarro went back to St. Thomas in 1847 to help his dad with his shop. He hated it, so he went to Venezuela with a friend and became part of a strong artist community there. In 1854, he went back to St. Thomas. He didn’t like it this time either, so in 1855, he went to Paris.
Pissarro enrolled in the Paris School of Fine Arts. They didn’t teach realism, which is what he was really interested in.
In 1859, the Paris Salon exhibited one of his landscapes but never again accepted his work. Then Napoleon III, the French emperor, ordered the “Salon des Refuses” (Salon of the Rejected) because so much artwork was being turned away by the Salon judges, and there had been many complaints. The ‘Salon of Rejects’ displayed Pissarro’s work, as well as Degas’, Monet’s, and Renoir’s. This group of artists started meeting in bars and cafes, sharing, discussing, and debating similar ideas of art, and from this, came Impressionism.
Pissarro is probably the person most responsible for getting the main Impressionists together, because he provided the link between Manet and Cezanne meeting Monet, Renoir and Sisley.
In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, Pissarro and Monet fled to England together. There, they studied English artists who seemed less bound by traditions.
When he returned to Paris, Pissarro found that Prussian soldiers had destroyed his home and with it, 20 years’ worth of paintings. Only 40 of his paintings remained of the original 1500! He was devastated.
Pissarro soon moved to Pontoise just outside of Paris and, here, was joined by Cezanne for two years.
In 1874, Pissarro helped to organise and participated in the first Impressionist exhibit. He was the only one of the Impressionist group to participate in all eight Impressionist exhibitions.
Pissarro was the oldest Impressionist, so the other Impressionists looked up to him. Cezanne once said, “He is a man to consult; he is a bit like God.”
His best work was painted in late 1870’s; he harnessed light and shadow well. After 1880, he painted less landscape, and more people as subjects. He tried pointillism but never warmed to it.
He had a solo exhibition in 1892 and after this show, he was finally able to make a reasonable living. He was now in his 60’s. After a solo show in 1896, he actually started having a hard time meeting demand.
As he grew older, his health eventually prevented him from painting outdoors. He then started painting street scenes from hotel windows.
Camille Pissarro died in Paris, November 13, 1903, from blood poisoning. He was 73 years old. He is buried in Paris, in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
While in Paris, you will find paintings by Pissarro at the Musee d'Orsay, and a couple at the Louvre, in the Sully wing.