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Clark Art Institute to Explore Rarely Examined Side of Pissarro in Exhibition
The Harvest, 1882, by Camille Pissarro. Tempera on canvas, 27 11/16 x 49 9/16 in. (70.3 x 126 cm). The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, donated by the heirs of Mr. Kojiro Matsukata.

WILLIAMSTOWN, MA.- Pissarro’s People is the first major U.S. museum exhibition of the artist’s works in 30 years. Bringing together paintings from collections around the world, the exhibition will challenge our understanding of the father of Impressionism by focusing on Camille Pissarro’s engagement with the human figure in a highly personal and poignant exploration of his humanism. Pissarro’s People will be on view at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, from June 12 to October 2, 2011.

“Pissarro’s People continues the Clark’s series of scholarly exhibitions that rely on rigorous new research to expand our current appreciation of well-known artists,” stated Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. “With this exhibition, we welcome one of the outstanding scholars of our time, Richard Brettell, who so dramatically advanced our understanding of nineteenth-century painting with his 2001 exhibition Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860–1890.”

While Pissarro is best known for his quietly modulated landscapes and cityscapes, Pissarro’s People will be the first exhibition to concentrate on the artist’s lifelong preoccupation with the human figure. Based on extensive new scholarship, the exhibition presents approximately 50 oil paintings and three dozen works on paper. These works explore the three dimensions of Pissarro’s life that are essential to an understanding of his pictorial humanism: his family ties, his friendships, and his intense intellectual involvement with the social and political theories of his time.

According to curator Richard R. Brettell, “Scholars have tended to treat Pissarro’s ‘politics’ and his ‘art’ in two separate categories, often refusing to see the most basic connections between them. This is largely because Pissarro was less a political activist than a social and economic philosopher. The title of the exhibition, Pissarro’s People, is not merely an allusion to his politics, but points to a larger attempt to explore all aspects of his humanism. The exhibition embodies his pictorial humanism and creates a series of contexts, linking his web of family and friends to his profound social and economic concerns.”

Pissarro’s People is the first exhibition to bring together portraits of every member of Pissarro’s immediate family, reflecting his abiding allegiance to his wife and children. The exhibition will also include paintings that reveal Pissarro’s numerous friendships with artists, business colleagues, neighbors, agriculturalists, rural workers, and his extended network of acquaintances.

Pissarro’s People will also connect the artist’s biography with his intimate views of domestic labor, through paintings such as Jeanne Pissarro, Called Minette, Holding a Fan (c. 1874, Ashmolean Museum), The Maidservant (1875, Chrysler Museum of Art), Young Peasant Woman Drinking Her Café au Lait (1881, Art Institute of Chicago), and The Little Country Maid (1882, Tate Collection). In this exhibition,the theme of domestic labor will be linked, in turn, to Pissarro’s views on agricultural labor and the market economy in works such as The Harvest (1882, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo), The Gisors Market (1887, Columbus Museum of Art), and his remarkable, biting series of 28 anarchist drawings titled Turpitudes Sociales (1889-90, private collection). Presiding over the powerful themes of this exhibition will be the artist’s view of himself as a political and ethnic outsider in his adopted country, France, which he brought to bear in his great Self-Portrait (1873) from the Musée d’Orsay.

A fully illustrated catalogue written by Brettell will accompany the exhibition and elucidate its themes. The conclusions in the publication are also based on hundreds of newly discovered and largely unpublished letters written to Pissarro, which have been located in public and private archives and expand upon existing scholarship. In addition to including images of all of the paintings, drawings, and prints in the exhibition, the publication will extend its visual survey to other works by Pissarro and his colleagues and friends, positioning his pictorial achievement in a context that is at once art historical, intellectual, and biographical.

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