CAMILLE PISSARRO prints at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Camille Pissarro, Self Portrait 1890-1891, Etching 2nd state. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (bought with support from BankGiro Loterij, the Vincent van Gogh Foundation and members of The Yellow House) Image courtesy Amsterdam Van Gogh Museum

A few weeks ago, the Amsterdam Van Gogh Museum announced it had acquired 91 prints by Camille Pissarro. The prints are from the Samuel Josefowitz Collection. They joined 14 prints, three paintings and two works on paper by Pissarro, already part of the museum’s collection.

“So what?”, you may ask.

For starters: Vincent van Gogh called Camille Pissarro “Père Pissarro”.

He did not just call Pissarro affectionately “père”. Van Gogh greatly admired the impressionist artist. He sought Pissarro’s opinion and approval. Moreover, Pissarro inspired van Gogh.

A selection of just over forty of the recently acquired prints is currently on display inside the museum’s exhibition wing. The Pissarro prints are exhibited one floor above the large Hockney-van Gogh exhibition.

This is a small exhibition: just one room. So don’t make the mistake many exhibition visitors made when I admired van Gogh’s, Hockney’s and Pissaro’s works: leave the exhibition wing – without visiting its third floor.

If you like works by Vincent van Gogh, you should have a look at Pissarro’s prints. If Pissarro inspired van Gogh and van Gogh greatly admired him, each work Pissaro created is worth a look!

The selected prints give a good impression of Pissarro discovering etching. They show how he experimented with etching and printing. He was to become one of the most productive impressionist etchers and printers.

Many of the prints show Pissaro’s experiments. He certainly used unorthodox methods. There are examples of applying coloured paints to plates. There examples of plates Pissarro treated with sand-paper, or even with steel brushes.

Though Rembrandt also loved to experiment while creating etchings and prints, I don’t think there are examples of him using Pissarro’s drastic methods. Or at least: I can’t remember coming across samples in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum’s current Rembrandt-exhibition.

Yet, like Rembrandt, Pissarro created and printed a self-portrait. Mind: unlike Rembrandt, Pissarro only created one plate with his self-portrait. Prints of this plate are now much sought-after.

It shows Pissarro as an old man with a long beard, reading glasses and a flat cap. You may disagree, but I think he is rather endearing. No surprise, van Gogh called him “père Pissarro”.

Pissarro also did not resemble artists who produced prints in great numbers, to earn large sums of money. No; he was interested in results of his experiments and creating unique art.

He treated every single print as a unique work. This does not mean the exhibition contains just one single print of one single plate. It does show several states, or versions of the same image. What Pissarro did do: change plate or print in each version, while printing limited numbers of scenes; not hundreds of the same image.

Unfamiliar with etching? Many of Pissarro’s techniques and changes to scenes are explained in the display case in the middle of this exhibition. It contains samples of plates and prints, as well as tools.

Acquiring the complete set of ninety prints from the Samuel Josefowitz collection ensured the Van Gogh Museum joined a select number of museums owning Pisarro print-collections. The other museums are the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, The New York Public Library, and the Ashmolean in Oxford.

So after visiting “Hockney-van Gogh”, go one floor up for this unique opportunity to look at art Pissarro created, printed, handled himself. As prints are easily damaged by light, this small exhibition closes 26th of May 2019.      Kate   12th March 2019

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