Pissarro's People: Probably the show's last words of opinion
WILLIAMSTOWN -- This comforting, colorful exhibition didn't close the other day, as I'd thought. It's still at the Clark Art Institute through Oct. 2, and if you don't care about Pissarro, or never heard of him, this one's for you.
Some years ago I dragged over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a Pissarro show, and dragged out, having decided that this French Impressionist was full of gray Paris streets with touches of red and blue, no green.
That gobbling you hear is the sound of me eating my words after spending a lovely hour at the Clark, peering at Pissarro's private life. In oil and charcoal, I met his beloved wife (his mother's servant whom he married some time while she was bearing his eight sane children), his relaxed farming servants, who returned his respect, and enjoyed his pleasant gardens (green, of course). As one critic wrote: "In this humane and balanced world people have what they need and want no more."
So how come he isn't the same as Manet, or Monet, or Degas, or those guys?
First of all, Pissarro was French only because his (unmarried) parents happened to be. He was a Danish citizen, born in 1830 on the then-Danish Caribbean island of St. Thomas. He was also Jewish, and grew up speaking English. He went to France in the 1850s to study, and remained there, friendly and welcoming to a circle of famous artists, who acknowledged their debt to him. (After his death, Cezanne -- the competition -- called himself Pissarro's pupil.) An avowed revolutionary, Pissarro was always ready to champion anarchism and even managed -- to a degree -- to forgive anti-Semitism.
One last thing, while you're getting out your car keys: the lawns of the Clark are decorated with figures of Pissarro's servants picking fruit, haying and leading farm animals and looking like the painting shown. The tender image of his child in the garden shows how much of Pissarro's surroundings were, well, green. (Gobble gobble.)
Paintings shown are (at top) Jeanne Pissarro, called Minette, Sitting in the Garden, Pontoise, ca. 1872 and Apple Harvest, 1888.