Called the father of Impressionism, Camille Pissarro was born in 1830 on the island of Saint Thomas in the West Indies. After a French boarding school education and six years spent working in his parents’ store, at the age of 22 Pissarro turned his back on his bourgeois life in favour of a career in art.
Initially, Pissarro assisted the Danish painter Fritz Melbye and studied works by artists he admired including Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Jean-François Millet. In 1856, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and attended classes at the Académie Suisse, where he met Claude Monet. Through Monet, he was introduced to Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley.
Working alongside these artists, Pissarro abandoned the more traditional approaches to landscape painting that had thus far underpinned his practice and instead embraced a phenomenological understanding of colour. Over time he became more and more opposed to the standards required by the Academy and the Salon, believing instead that art was a means to encourage egalitarianism.
Following the Franco-Prussian War, during which he resided in England, Pissarro and Monet became set upon launching a Salon of their own and, in 1874, the first Impressionist exhibition opened featuring their canvases alongside those by Renoir, Sisley, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas and Berthe Morisot.
Although celebrated for his rural scenes, Pissarro painted the urban environment as well, documenting the busy Boulevard Montmartre in Paris, London’s Hyde Park and the bridges of Rouen, among others. Ever experimental, during the mid-1880s he moved away from pure Impressionism and instead began to incorporate the divisionist techniques espoused by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. In the last decade of his life, Pissarro returned to Impressionism, painting en plein air and documenting life around his home in Éragny-sur-Epte.
Pissarro’s influence was paramount, and he was admired by Post-Impressionist artists including Cezanne and Paul Gauguin. He lived long enough to see his Impressionist cohort receive critical acclaim. Eye trouble towards the end of his life forced Pissarro to paint in the studio, where he continued to work until his death in 1903.