Camille Pissarro: The Audacity of Impressionism
From the acclaimed biographer and author of Balzac’s Omelette, an engaging new work on the life of “the father of Impressionism” and the role his Jewish background played in his artistic creativity.
The celebrated painter Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) occupied a central place in the artistic scene of his time: a founding member of the new school of French painting, he was a close friend of Monet, a longtime associate in Degas’s and Mary Cassatt’s experimental work, a support to Cézanne and Gauguin, and a comfort to Van Gogh, and was backed by the great Parisian art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel throughout his career. Nevertheless, he felt a persistent sense of being set apart, different, and hard to classify. Settled in France from the age of twenty-five but born in the Caribbean, he was not French and what is more he was Jewish. Although a resolute atheist who never interjected political or religious messages in his art, he was fully aware of the consequences of his lineage.
Drawing on Pissarro’s considerable body of work and a vast collection of letters that show his unrestrained thoughts, Anka Muhlstein offers a nuanced, intimate portrait of the artist whose independent spirit fostered an environment of freedom and autonomy.
Praise for Camille Pissarro: The Audacity of Impressionism
“Cézanne hailed him as the first Impressionist, and from these pages Pissarro certainly emerges as the most beguiling. Faced with every manner of obstacle—from financial woes to anti-Semitism to the destruction of his paintings during the Paris Commune to an inhospitable art world—Pissarro held his own, ceaselessly experimenting with new subjects and styles. Anka Muhlstein has done him proud. Lithe, incisive, and sparkling, this is a model biography.” —Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life and The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams
“On rare occasions, a biography introduces you to an artist whose life reminds you of all the joy and beauty on offer to those who seek them, along with all the hardship the seeker must transcend. Camille Pissarro is such a character, and Anka Muhlstein’s exquisite portrait of him is such a revelation.” —Judith Thurman, National Book Award–winning author of Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller
“With the skill only a master biographer can muster, Anka Muhlstein paints a portrait of a beloved artist as you have never seen him before. Pissarro emerges at the crossroads of identities and experiences, a true man of the world. The book is remarkable for Muhlstein’s trademark depth of scholarship, but most of all for her depth of insight.” —James McAuley, author of The House of Fragile Things: Jewish Art Collectors and the Fall of France
“Anka Muhlstein’s life of Pissarro is a story about devotion. We see the young man travel from his native Saint Thomas in the Caribbean and create himself as a French painter in the shared adventure of Impressionism, holding fast to his vision through poverty, vilification, and family sorrow. A noble tale of art and friendship, in Muhlstein’s telling, as dappled and subtle as Pissarro’s own paintings. When I reached the final pages, my heart was full.” —Rosanna Warren, author of Max Jacob: A Life in Art and Letters
“Here is life-writing at its most vivid and engrossing. Pissarro emerges as heroic in his artistic dedication and collegial generosity—a patriarch and saint among the painters of modern life. Muhlstein’s portrait pulses with all the particulars of a mighty life and career. Her Pissarro is irresistible.” —Benjamin Taylor, author of Proust: The Search
“Muhlstein deftly traces the life of Camille Pissarro from its Caribbean origins to Paris and the turbulent center of radical Impressionism. Drawing on the artist’s correspondence, she illuminates with acute sensitivity his Jewish background, long years of struggle and loss, equanimity, devotion to family, constant work—as well as his extraordinary artistry and role as father figure to his younger Impressionist friends.” —Susan Grace Galassi, coauthor of Picasso’s Drawings, 1890–1921: Reinventing Tradition
“The ‘father of Impressionism’—Camille Pissarro—emerges from this intimate account, written largely from his correspondence, as a dedicated and independent artist and a great-hearted man. Anka Muhlstein has written a fine, fast-paced, readable account of a crucial figure in cultural history.” —Peter Brooks, author of Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative and Balzac’s Lives