Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro (French, 1830–1903) was born on April 10, 1830, on the island of St. Thomas. At the age of 12 he was sent to boarding school in France, and the French masters he studied there inspired him to create art. When he returned to St. Thomas, he met Danish artist Fritz Melbye (1826–1896), who urged him to take on painting as a career. In 1855, he returned to France and began working in Paris with Melbye''s brother Anton (1818–1875). While in Paris, Pissarro studied under the French artists Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875), Gustave Courbet (1819–1877), and Charles-François Daubigny (1817–1878) at the École des Beaux-Arts and Académie Suisse. Encouraged by these influences, Pissarro began painting en plein air and, inspired by the natural beauty of France, created many works of the countryside. During his studies, Pissarro developed friendships with other French artists, such as Henri Matisse (1869–1954) and Paul Cézanne (1839–1906). This group of young artists felt stifled by the rules of the Paris Salon des Artistes, and began to defy convention by painting in a style that attempted to capture the truth of what they saw. During the Franco-Prussian War, Pissarro left France for London, where he was introduced to Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926) and studied the works of British artists John Constable (1776–1837) and J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), which further inspired his painting style. After the war, Pissarro returned to France and reestablished his friendships with the other artists who were beginning to experiment with the Impressionist style. This group, with Pissarro at its head, formed the Société Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs et Graveurs as an alternative to the Paris Salon. The first Impressionist exhibition was held by the Société in 1874, and was panned by critics. In his later life, Pissarro formed friendships with Paul Signac (French, 1863–1935) and Georges Seurat (French, 1859–1891), who encouraged him to explore the techniques of Pointillism and Neo-Impressionism. Pissarro eventually found these techniques to stray too far from his desire to realistically portray his surroundings, and after a time he went back to working in the Impressionist style. Pissarro passed away in November 1903, and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Timeline

Pissarro was born in St Thomas in the West Indies, the son of a Créole mother and a father of Portuguese-Jewish descent. He worked as a clerk in his father’s general store until 1852 when he ran away with a Danish painter, after which his reluctant parents resigned themselves to his becoming an artist.
He arrived in Paris in 1865, in time to see the Great Exhibition at the World’s Fair, when Courbet exhibited his paintings independently. Soon after he met Corot, by whom he was deeply influenced. Yet by 1866 Corot disapproved of the way the younger landscape painters were going and was particularly severe about Pissarro’s connection with Courbet and Manet. In 1859 Pissarro met Monet and in 1863 several of his pictures were exhibited in the Salon des Refusés. From 1866-69, he worked at Pontoise on landscapes painted entirely in the open, but he could sell almost nothing and he and his family lived in the most cruel poverty.
In 1870, he fled before the German invasion, first to Brittany, and then to London. Eventually, news reached him that his house in Louveciennes had been used as a butchery by the invaders, and his store of 200 to 300 pictures used as duckboards in the muddy garden. This was a crushing blow to a man who was so passionate about his work.
In 1872 Cézanne joined him in Pontoise and worked with him, with a radical effect on his own style. In 1874 he took part in the first Impressionist Exhibition: he was the only one who exhibited in all eight, and it was he who introduced first Gauguin, then Seurat and Signac into the Impressionist Exhibitions, with constant disruption among the group. He was much influenced from 1884 by Seurat’s theories of Optical Mixture, which he used until 1888, when he declared that the method “inhibits me and hinders the development of spontaneity of sensation”. From 1895 the worsening of his eye-trouble forced him to give up working en plein air, and he painted many town views from windows in Paris. He died blind in 1903.
Pissarro was an artist of diverse talents. He is known chiefly for his oil painting, yet he also worked in gouache, pastel, drawing, etching and lithography. He is also known for his tolerance and the unity that he inspired amongst his fellow Impressionists, even in the middle of bitter disputes. In return, they gave him respect and admiration for his principles as much as for his art. His paintings can be found in almost every museum of modern art around the world.