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The National Gallery acquires painting by Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro, (1830 - 1903), Late afternoon in our Meadow, 1887. Oil on canvas, 54 x 65 cm © The National Gallery, London.

LONDON.- On the 190th birthday of Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), the National Gallery has announced the acquisition of his Late afternoon in our Meadow (1887) which has been on loan to the Gallery since November 2019.

This is the 12th painting by Pissarro to enter the National Gallery’s collection and it has been acquired through a hybrid Acceptance in Lieu with the support of a generous legacy from James Francis George Wilson, 2020.

An acquisition of great importance, this is the first of Pissarro’s Divisionist works to enter the collection, and the first painting of the 1880s, joining a group of pictures which range from an early scene in Louveciennes to a late view of the Louvre in winter.

It can be viewed in Room 44 from today.

The painting was first acquired in 1888 by Parisian art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, the great supporter and collector of the Impressionists, possibly directly from the artist. It was included in several exhibitions in Paris and Amsterdam before being purchased by William Waldorf Astor, 3rd Viscount Astor (1907–1966), in the 1950s. When Viscount Astor, passed away, the painting was inherited by his wife Janet Bronwen, Viscountess Astor (1930–2017) and then accepted in lieu of Inheritance tax by HM Government and allocated to the National Gallery in 2020.

Late afternoon in our Meadow is one of a series of paintings featuring the meadow of a property in Eragny, where Pissarro settled in 1884 with his family. He lived there, in what was to be his last home, for almost twenty years. It provided an idyllic view of unspoilt countryside, which Pissarro painted repeatedly throughout the 1880s and 1890s, year after year, almost season by season. Pissarro’s working methods varied too - sometimes he painted the meadow high up from his studio window on medium-sized and large canvases, sometimes he painted it outdoors at ground level, often selecting small wooden panels rather than canvases.

Pissarro may well have begun painting Late afternoon in our Meadow en plein air and then completed it in the studio. The painting features a solitary figure, Pissarro’s wife, standing with a basket in one hand and her other hand on her hip. The meadow is planted with small trees; young saplings still surrounded by their protective cages. The sunlit foreground is separated from an area of much brighter green. A meandering stream divides the meadow from a line of densely planted trees of similar height on the horizon, punctured by a tall poplar to the left.

It is late afternoon and the long, thin shadows thrown by the trees radiate out in a fan shape towards the left corner. By 1887 Pissarro had fallen under the spell of the much younger painter Georges Seurat and adopted his innovation of painting in small dots of pure colour. The whole work is painted in separate touches of paint which create a decorative and textured surface; in the grass, an underlayer of greens and yellows is overlaid with pinks and yellows; in the areas of shadow, darker greens are overlaid with blues, mauves and the odd touch of orange. Following the colour theories of Michel Eugène Chevreul and Ogden Rood, complementary colours were juxtaposed: yellows and oranges added to sunlit areas, and blues and purples to shadows, creating a vibrant composition and reinforcing the pervading atmosphere of shimmering light.

Christopher Riopelle, the National Gallery’s Neil Westreich Curator of Post-1800 Paintings, says “The painting’s freshness and superb state of preservation allow us to see Pissarro at a crucial moment of his career, previously unrepresented at the National Gallery. He slows down his usual rapid, improvisatory technique to compose pointillist compositions that record the fluctuations of light and atmosphere with minute, exquisite precision.”

National Gallery Director, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, says “Pissarro is represented in depth at the Gallery but Late Afternoon in our Meadow shows an aspect of his work until now absent and that is his temporary adoption in the 1880s of the ‘Divisionist’ technique pioneered by Seurat, of painting in very small strokes of pure colour to achieve richly luminous effects. This is a superb example and I am grateful to the Acceptance in Lieu Panel for shepherding the painting into the national collection at Trafalgar Square for everyone’s enjoyment.”

Edward Harley, OBE, Chairman, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, says “I am delighted to announce that a landscape by Camille Pissarro has been acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme and allocated to the National Gallery. Considered to be one of the highlights of his Neo-Impressionist phase, this is a wonderful work with distinguished provenance, and I hope that its example will encourage others to use the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme to bring great art into our public collections.”

Pissarro was born on the island of St Thomas (then a Danish possession) in the Caribbean but was sent to school in France at the age of twelve. His importance resides in his contribution to both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Pissarro studied from great forerunners, including Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, having only Danish nationality and being unable to join the French army, he moved his family to Norwood, then a village on the edge of London.

Pissarro met the Paris art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, in London, who became the dealer who helped sell his art for most of his life. Durand-Ruel put him in touch with Monet who was also in London during this period. They both saw the work of British landscape artists John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner, which confirmed their belief that their style of open air painting gave the truest depiction of light and atmosphere, an effect that they felt could not be achieved in the studio alone. Pissarro's paintings also began to take on a more spontaneous look, with loosely blended brushstrokes and areas of impasto, giving more depth to the work.

Pissarro is the only artist to have shown his work at all eight Paris Impressionist exhibitions, from 1874 to 1886. He ‘acted as a father figure not only to the Impressionists’ but to all four of the major Post-Impressionists, Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin.

In 1885 Pissarro met Georges Seurat, and for a time adopted his Divisionist technique of applying small dots of colour alongside each other on the canvas to create an optical mixture. Pissarro, along with Seurat and Paul Signac, exhibited such works at the 8th and last Impressionist exhibition in 1886, prompting the critic Félix Fénéon to invent the term Neo-Impressionism. However, a few years later, Pissarro gradually abandoned the technique, finding the painstaking application of paint an obstacle to a spontaneous and swift rendering of a scene.

Pissarro died in Paris on 13 November 1903 and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

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