|Jeanne Pissarro, called Cocotte, Reading 1899 - Oil on canvas 22 x 26 3/8 in.|
This year is no exception: Pissarro’s People is a superb exhibition that brings together a wide range of the artist’s work in unique combinations for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Though it probably won’t draw huge crowds like Picasso or O’Keeffe (and that’s a shame), this exhibition offers rewards beyond the woozy feeling you get when confronted by genius on canvas, largely by telling a whopper of a true story.
|The Little Country Maid 1882|
Oil on canvas 25 x 20 7/8 in.
This amazing story is illustrated, so to speak, by Pissarro’s many paintings and works on paper in the show – a thin slice of his life’s work, really, due to the “people” theme. The works also nicely delineate the artistic process in effective ways. And, along the way, they happen to include enough eye-popping masterpieces to keep even the hungriest sensation-seeker satisfied.
As one of those types myself, I might have preferred an arrangement where just the 10 or 12 knockouts were grouped in a room and the rest of the lesson could be left for the more academically inclined – but that’s not what curators tend to do. Anyway, the lesson is more than worth the trouble, and so is the process of hunting down the best stuff in this selection.
|Washerwoman, Study 1880|
Oil on canvas 28 3/4 x 23 1/4 in.
Cocotte, Reading is part of the exhibition’s first section, labeled Family and Friends (an overview with very informative text and just a few exemplary paintings is provided on the museum’s main floor, while the body of the exhibition is upstairs). Several other fine works are in this section, including many portraits of all generations of the family, and one of Cezanne, in etching, that captures the younger artist’s intensity.
One immediately understands from this grouping that there was not a separation of the personal and the professional for Pissarro, a fact that is reaffirmed throughout the rest of the exhibition. Indeed, his personal, familial, and political philosophies all blended to create a powerful approach to picture-making.
Beyond family, the most represented people in Pissarro’s world are servants, workers, and market-goers; the equal footing each has been given shows their portrayer’s deep commitment to the humanism that was spawned by his early Moravian schooling.
|Peasant Woman Lying in the Grass, Pontoise 1882|
Oil on canvas 25 3/8 x 30 3/4 in.
These and many other studies throughout the exhibition provide similar insights into the artist’s working process, as well as the additional excitement that comes from knowing he never exhibited them himself – most were preserved by family members – but that we have the privilege of seeing them now in a new context.
Leisure is captured best in another outstanding painting, titled Peasant Woman Lying in the Grass, Pontoise, where the pleasure of resting in the sun is as palpable as the countless brushstrokes that build the image. Though not yet Pointillist, this painting prefigures the scientific approach to dots of color that Pissarro would soon immerse himself in. Much of the work to follow would be done in that almost ecstatic style; but, for me, it was a digression that lacks the pure energy and emotion of the work he did both before and after.
Pissarro’s People continues at the Clark through Oct. 2.
Rating: Must See
Note: Also at the Clark are two exhibitions of contemporary art that are both well worth seeing. Ghanain sculptor El Anatsui has three monumental works on view in the Stone Hill Center through Oct. 16; and Spaces: Photographs by Candida Höfer and Thomas Struth is on view in the main collection area through Sept. 5 (filling space that was liberated by an international tour of a large group of the museum’s Impressionist holdings).
Robin Kelsey, Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography, Harvard University, will present a gallery talk on Spaces at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 13. The talk is free with admission.
|The Harvest 1882 - Tempera on canvas 27 11/16 x 49 9/16 in.|