Camille Pissarro Boulevard Montmartre: Afternoon Sunlight
Camille Pissarro's Boulevard Montmartre: Afternoon Sunlight, painted in 1897, is part of a loose series of elevated views of the Boulevard Montmartre, the most famous of which being Boulevard Montmartre At Night. Yet this variation, currently housed at the Hermitage Museum, is a stunning and ephemeral view of the packed thoroughfare in the shimmering Impressionist style that, by the end of the nineteenth century, had turned the French art world on its head. Born in 1830 into a bourgeois family in the French lands of the Caribbean, Camille Pissarro, devoted himself to painting in 1855 after a meeting with the Danish painter Melbye. Soon after, he met the founding figures of Impressionism Corot and Monet, and focused initially on studies of urban and rural modernity, first exhibiting his work in 1863 at the Salon des Refuses.
But it is in his later works, that Pissarro's legacy has endured, the artist having given special attention to the metropolitan reality at the close of the century, and taking up where Monet and Caillebotte left off in their brief studies of urban modernity. In the 1890s Pissarro rented rooms in Paris, Rouen, Dieppe and Le Havre, from which he painted dynamic, sweeping views of the boulevards, squares, rivers and bridges of both the quaint French idyll and the relentlessly modern nation. Like Monet, Pissarro painted variations and repetitions of the effects of light, thus fixing the differences in luminescence upon the canvas. Like Degas Pissarro suffered from chronic problems with his vision, in part ushering in a remarkable and visionary approach to spatial composition. This style is seen with profound effect in Boulevard Montmartre: Afternoon Sunlight as the deep perspectives traversed by traffic and framed by Haussmanian architecture and tree-lined avenues, are bathed in an atemporal atmosphere of city light.
The artist worked methodically for more than two months on the Boulevard Montmartre series and held Boulevard Montmartre: Afternoon Sunlight in particular esteem, writing soon after dispatching the canvas to his art dealer coyly requesting him not to see it sold. As an artist keen to exploit the dramatic possibilities presented by the urban regeneration of Paris, Pissarro was largely responsible for reconciling artistic Paris with its new architectural environment, combining richly painted smudges of life with a supremely elegant composition. The appearance of Pissarro's city scenes would cause an immense ripple of acclaim when debuted in the United States, triggering a wave of Impressionist imitators, many of which would come to shape the early aesthetic of American painting.
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