Ludovic Rodo PissarroPerhaps the most consistent trait possessed by artists of all stripes is the desire to be remembered after their death. This is, of course, a goal in common with people from all walks of life, but artists especially have it within their grasp with every mark they make in struggling to record their creative presence on this planet. Artists are nearly always multitalented people, and thus the exploration of their creative urges often takes them in many different directions over the course of their lives, sometimes even in different directions simultaneously. Taking myself as an example, I've taught, I paint, I write, I digitalise, I'm also an amateur photographer, architect, and videographer. And I'll probably add another area or two of amateur or professional interests before I die. Strangely though, despite their best efforts, artists often have little control over the way in which they will be remembered by posterity. Samuel F. B. Morse no doubt would like to have been remembered as a great history painter. We remember him instead as the world's first telegrapher.
Ludovic-Rodolphe would like to have been remembered as a great painter too. Instead, he's most recalled today as an art historian, responsible for cataloguing the life's work of his father, Camille Pissarro. The two volume work, published in 1939, took him some twenty years to compile and has become the standard to which all other art historians turn in studying his father's work. Yet this fourth son of Camille and Julie Pissarro was by turns also an Impressionist, a wood engraver, a Fauvist, a practitioner of the decorative arts, and a political activist (allying himself with French anarchists as a young man). By rights, Ludovic-Rodolphe Pissarro should have been a famous painter. He had all the right breaks. Like his brothers, he had perhaps the best art teacher in the world at the time. His kindly father has long been revered for his warmth and effective influence upon several young artists seeking his steady hand and critical eye. And he knew all the right people. A great number of famous and soon-to-be-famous artists of his time vied for a seat at Camille Pissarro's table. And though he was first and foremost a student of his father, Rodo picked up much from them - artists as diverse as Maurice Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Born in 1878, Ludovic-Rodolphe Pissarro, it could be argued, may have had too many influences. Unlike his older brother, Lucien, Rodo never seemed to settle into a single groove (or rut, depending upon one's view) but instead, found himself constantly turning to new things, often before completely mastering any of them. Of all his father's sons, Rodo was closest to him, the only one to be with him at his death in 1903. After that, Rodo followed Lucien to London where they shared studio space and despite his family's position in the art world, he struggled as an artist. In Paris, he displayed at the 1905 Salon des Indépendants as a Fauvist, though in all likelihood he was not enough of a Fauvist to gain much notice. In London, several times he was rejected by the New English Art Club. His paintings of London street life rendered through windows several floors up are fascinating, if hardly remarkable. In 1915, with the help of his brother and a few friends, he started their own club, calling it the Monarro Group, formed specifically as an alternative means of gaining public recognition for their work. Perhaps too, Ludovic-Rodo struggled because, like all his brothers, except for Lucien, he was encouraged by his father not to trade upon the Pissarro name.
Though Rodo could hardly be considered a failure as an artist, his star was perhaps the least lustrous of all the Pissarro offspring. And though he was unable to polish his own work and image as an artist, his long, diligent, scholarly effort in pulling together his father's vast exploration of various forms of artistic expression has added immeasurably to the understanding and lustre of Camille Pissarro's oeuvre and indirectly, to that of the entire family. Ludovic-Rodo died in 1952 having acquiesced to the fact that he was a Pissarro in name only, and hardly that. Yet ironically, his literary contribution to the art world may well be remembered long after the paintings of his more talented siblings have long been forgotten.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
21 March 2001