Lucien PissarroSome artist friends and I were talking over coffee the other day and the subject came around to second generation artists. And although there are a surprising number of father-son, even one or two father-daughter and at least one mother-son artist combinations mentioned in the art history books, none of us could name even one instance of dual generational artists of our own personal acquaintance. Does it not happen any more that children follow their parents into art careers? Since then, in scouring my brain, I've recalled one mother-daughter painting duo, whom I know personally, though in this case it was not so much the mother teaching the daughter to paint as both of them embarking upon an exploration of non-representational watercolours about the same time.
We all know of N. C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth; of Pablo and Paloma Picasso; of the extensive art thread running through the Peale family; of Henri Matisse and his son, Pierre; the Gentileschis; Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun - the list is really quite extensive. One father-son instance that had escaped me until recently was that of Camille Pissarro and his son, Lucien. In many respects, having a parent who has enjoyed some success in art is a great asset for the son or daughter - free art lessons. The family name also allows the second-generation artist a leg up in his or her career and a chance to know the right people once that career begins to get off the ground. By the same token, it also saddles the second-generation artist with sometimes a pretty tall standard to live up to. Lucien Pissarro was lucky. His father was not only an outstanding artist in his own right, but is also remembered as an exceptional teacher as well. He numbered among his students Gauguin, Cézanne, van Gogh and, of course, his son. He's said to have been the most kind-hearted artist who ever lived.
Lucien Pissarro was born in Paris in 1863. An eldest son, he was grew up at a time when his father was still a relatively unknown figure in French Art. Impressionism was still several years in his future, and it's heart-warming to picture father and son sitting together in some idyllic French countryside scene enjoying one another's company as they each worked at their easels. There's nothing to indicate, however, that Lucien Pissarro was any kind of child prodigy, although there is evident in his painting substantial stylistic and colour influences from his father. When war came to France in 1883, Camille Pissarro shipped his family off to England for the duration. There the young man, now 20 years old, worked as a cloth merchant. He stayed long after the war, learned the language, and eventually married a nice young English girl.
Actually, it would seem, despite his new English roots, he spent almost as much time in France as in England. In 1884, he and his father both met Georges Seurat and took up Pointillism. Around the same time, the two also came into contact with Vincent van Gogh and were active in what they called Neo-Impressionism. However, the son's interests were as much in engraving as in painting. His father arranged for him to study under the wood-engraver, Auguste Lepere. His talent in the print medium he took back to England with him where, in 1894, he founded his own printing company, Eragny Press, specialising in illustrated books and journals. After his father's death in 1903, Lucien Pissarro painted only sporadically, devoting most of his time to business and engraving. He died in 1944 at the age of 82. His story, his relationship with his father, and his art, are all interesting, if not exceptional. He in no way rose to the same level of importance in art as his father and his career took a very different direction. But that too is not uncommon in such instances. Picasso's daughter designs jewellery and Pierre Matisse eventually chose to sell art rather than create it.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
1 March 2001