Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pissaro (for Pissarro)

I saw the exhibit "Pissarro's People" at the Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, last weekend, and followed it up with a lecture about this amazing artist and activist at the Albany Institute of History & Art yesterday. Camille Pissarro, dubbed the "dean of the Impressionist painters," was born in 1830 on the island of St. Thomas to a Jewish father of Portuguese descent (and French nationality) and native Creole mother. At the age of 41, he married Julie Vellay, his mother's maid; together, they had eight children, both before and after wedlock. Pissarro related strongly to the "common man" and felt that the process of painting (especially in the rather painstaking Impressionistic style that he favored) was akin to laboring out in the fields. He envisioned a utopian lifestyle where all people were treated equally and lived peacefully together in a largely agrarian setting. The Clark exhibit comprises about forty oil paintings; a number of sketches, drawings, and watercolors; and, perhaps most intriguing of all, 28 drawings from an anarchist booklet called Turpitudes Sociales. After the Dreyfus affair split the artistic community and stirred up anti-Semitic passions, Pissarro was forced to hide from the authorities and do most of his painting in hotel rooms. There were 37 hits on Pissaro in OhioLINK (12 if you combine it with the proper spelling) and just over 200 with both spellings in WorldCat. The authority file contains about a dozen entries for various people with the surname Pissarro, only one of which includes a cross-reference to the alternative spelling Pissaro. Be certain to consult the original source before you alter any records containing these names you may find in your own library's catalog.

(Self-portrait by Camille Pissarro, 1873, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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