Camille Pissaro, Montmartre, morning, cloudy weather, 1897.
Oil on canvas, 72x92cms.
Courtesy Art Gallery of NSW. Collection National Gallery of Victoria.
Camille Pissaro was once the greatest painter who ever lived. Do not think that we are very much impressed by that as a title, but it meant a lot to Pissaro. He cared nothing for art, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness. There was a certain inner comfort in knowing he could paint anybody who was snooty to him, although, being very mean and a self obsessed, he never really fought anyone except himself.
He was Corot’s star pupil. Corot taught all his young gentlemen to paint like featherweights, no matter whether they weighed one hundred and five or two hundred and five pounds. But it seemed to fit Pissaro. He painted very quickly. He was so good that Corot promptly disowned him. This increased Pissaro’s distaste for art, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his work. In his last year at art school he read too much and took to wearing spectacles. We never met any one of his class who liked him. They did not even remember that he was an artist.
We mistrust all mean people, especially when their stories hold together, and we always had a suspicion that perhaps Camille Pissaro had never been a great painter, and that perhaps a horse had stepped on his face, or that maybe his mother had been frightened or seen something, or that he had, maybe, bumped into something as a young child, but we finally had somebody verify the story from Corot. Corot not only remembered Pissaro. He had often wondered what had become of him…