WORDS BY PHIL GRABSKY
Phil's chosen painting this week is...
PLUM TREE IN BLOSSOM
BY CAMILLE PISSARRO
This week’s painting is a gorgeous work by the French impressionist Camille Pissarro. I’m not entirely sure why he gets less attention than many of the other impressionists like Manet and Degas – neither of whom really liked the term or felt it applied to them. Yet if anyone deserves to be called the ‘father of impressionism’ it is Pissarro: only he showed in all eight impressionist shows. It was he that Cézanne claimed taught them everything.
This particular painting is at the Ordrupgaard museum near Copenhagen. Indeed Pissarro was part-Danish (having been born in the Danish Antilles to Portuguese and French parents). Ordrupgaard is one of the thousands of wonderful galleries throughout the world that sometimes get overshadowed by the mega-museums but really should always be on any traveller’s itinerary if one is in the area.
Pissarro came to France as a foreigner and maybe always saw the landscape through the eyes of a detached but somewhat awestruck outsider and observer. In Paris he studied the works of great painters like Millet and Corot – and landscapes were always to be his metier. Unlike Monet who was forever travelling in search of new landscapes and cityscapes, Pissarro was comfortable to capture the location around him; the life around his own house and family. It should be said, mind you, that money – or lack of – played a part in his decision. I recently read Pissarro’s book ‘Letters to his son Lucien’ and one of the common themes in the near-destitution he lived in. Once again, it is our friend Paul Durand-Ruel who pops up to offer an economic crutch to lean on. In 1884 Pissarro and his family moved to Éragny, north-west of Paris. This painting is from the garden of his new house. The garden is wonderfully bathed in a glittering spring light. Pissarro is clearly entranced by the light as it skips across the flowering fruit trees. Everything is both still and active at the same time. Of a moment and yet timeless.
A final word about the gallery the painting now resides in. ''I might just as well confess now rather than later that I have been rash and made substantial purchases,'' Wilhelm Hansen (1868-1936) wrote to his wife, Henny, in 1916. ''I know, though, that I will be forgiven when you see what I have bought; it is all first class.''Hansen, a wealthy Danish insurance tycoon, had just bought two landscapes by Sisley, a Monet cathedral and a portrait by Renoir and a Pissarro. His interest may have been triggered by a 1914 show of 19th-century painting in Copenhagen that was stranded there by the outbreak of the First World War. Prices for art then dropped during the war, when Americans were absent from the European market, and Hansen made his first purchases thus in 1916. These paintings were to become part of the most important collection of 19th-century French paintings in northern Europe. We have just finished a film entitled DEGAS – PASSION FOR PERFECTION and Hansen’s collection and Degas intertwined. Hansen and his associates made many purchases after 1916 but one important one was to acquire the collection of a Parisian dentist, George Viau, which included more than 200 paintings notably part of (the deceased) Degas's collection and studio. They also secured three Degas works from Ambroise Vollard, among them the late pastel ''Three Dancers'' (c. 1898). Thus it is that paintings end up all around the world.Hansen’sfine collection, along with a fine group of paintings by Danish artists of Hansen's day and earlier, was given a fine home at Hansen’s large country home in the town of Ordrupgaard outside Copenhagen. After his wife's death in 1951, the house and the paintings became the state-owned Ordrupgaard Museum.
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