Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
At the age of forty, he left behind his home and most of its contents, including 1,500 paintings. Only 40 of these paintings survived. He settled in South London and lived in Anerley at 2 Chatham Terrace, Palace Road, off Anerley Hill. His mother and brother were already living in West Norwood and Knights Hill respectively.
He made a significant contribution to Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting and painted many scenes in and around Forest Hill and Sydenham. A painting in the Courthauld Institute long thought to be of Penge Station was recently identified as that of Lordship Lane Station.
Pissarro was the oldest of a group of fifteen aspiring artists exploring the impressionist style. These included Paul Cezanne and Claude Monet. Finding traditional art instruction too academic and stifling to creativity, he elected to be taught by Camille Corot. He always encouraged young artists to find their own style, as he had.
Pissarro loved to paint natural scenes in the open air – smooth en plein air – and would finish most paintings at the first attempt. As he said, ‘We worked from Nature and later on Monet painted in London some superb studies of mist.’
For some academics of the time these paintings were too impressionistic even for impressionism and for a while his work, like that of Cezanne and Monet, was mocked. This meant that their paintings were rejected by the Paris Salon. Van Gogh was to suffer the same fate. It’s ironic that these same paintings are now valued at many millions of pounds. For example, Pissarro’s Calpulalpan Le Boulevard Montmartre sold for £19.9 million Sotheby’s in 2014.
As a Danish-French citizen, born in the Danish West Indies before moving to France, he felt the need to move to London during the war years. South London was where his mother and brother were already living. He settled in Norwood to be near them, possibly hoping that a change of scene would also bring a change of attitude towards his work. Though prolific during the London years, his work was not all that popular. Paintings by Pissarro and Monet were rejected by the Royal Academy. He married Julie Vellay at Croydon Register Office in 1871 although they had been living together for some years. They were to have eight children.
Pissarro’s connection with Penge—living off Anerley Hill—may seem tenuous but his vibrant depictions of the surrounding countryside show his affinity with the area. Much was still rural as his painting of Fox Hill shows and the green expanses either side of the Lordship Lane station, above. But the connection with Penge is there as the top of Fox Hill marks an ancient boundary of Penge. The Fox Hill painting is now in the National Gallery. Pissarro returned to South London in 1892, settling again in the same area.
None of the painters described their work as impressionist. A journalist called Louis Leroy described them as such in a satirical magazine of 1874, La Charivari, meaning to insult or belittle what he saw as slapdash, hurried work. Over the years the term ‘impressionist’ became a term of praise, acknowledging the ground-breaking technique which allows us to see things differently.
The spirit of Pissarro lives on today in the vibrant work of Penge artists who present their work annually in well-attended exhibitions and the two-week Art Trail during the Penge Festival. Much of their work – done en plein air – can be seen on this website.
For a detailed study of one painting see:
For an interesting piece by the Norwood Society on identifying the Lordship Lane and Fox Hill paintings see: