The Camille Pissarro Biography

Pissarro Biography

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Camille Pissarro (1830 - 1903)

Camille Pissarro was born on July 10, 1830 on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, Danish West Indies; to Abraham Gabriel Pissarro, of Sephardic (or "Morrano") Jewish ancestry, and Rachel Manzano-Pomié, a Dominican of Spanish descent.

The Pissarros operated a dry goods store in what is now known as the Pissarro Building, 14 Dronnigens Gade in Queen's Quarter, Charlotte Amalie. Overlooking the main street, the family's upstairs residence was a spacious apartment. Large shuttered windows and high ceilings let breezes through during the hot summer months.

It was a busy time for the little port town of Charlotte Amalie. Dozens of merchant sailing ships would come to call every week with trade goods; during the age of sail, "free port" status and favorable tradewinds made St. Thomas a major point of transshipment between the Americas, Europe and Africa. As diverse as the itineraries of these great ships was the variety of the peoples and cultures settled in the Danish West Indies. As a boy, Camille spoke French at home, English, and Spanish with the African population of the island.

     His parents sent him to Paris at age 12 to a small boarding school. It was there that the director, seeing his interest in art, advised him to take "advantage of his life in the tropics by drawing coconut trees." When he returned to St. Thomas in 1847, this advice had been taken to heart.

He moved to Paris in 1855 and studied there with the French landscape artist Jean Baptiste Camille Corot. He later became associated with the Barbizon school.

Afterwards, he came under the influence of Claude Monet and other impressionists. During the Franco German War he lived in England, where he made a study of the landscapes of Joseph Mallord Turner. On his return to France he settled in Normandy. For awhile, in the 1880's, he experimented with pointillism, the neoimpressionist style of painting with dots of color, but later returned to the impressionist school.

A painter of sunshine and the subtle effects of light, he often painted scenes of Paris, Le Havre, and London. An excellent teacher, he influenced many of his contemporary French artists, notably Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne.

     An active, productive Master of his art until the end, Camille Pissarro succumbed to blood poisoning on 13 November, 1903 in Le Havre, France; survived by sons Lucien, Georges, Félix, Ludovic-Rodolphe, Paul Emile; and daughter, Jeanne.

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