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Paulemile Pissarro
One of the most interesting areas of social study is that involving personalities as related to birth order in a family. The reality is that every child is born into a different family environment. First-borns come to live with a heretofore childless couple. For at least a year or two, they are an "only child." Typically, they are often seemingly the most responsible both as children and adults, often achieving the most in life, strong role models for their younger brothers and sisters, and those most prone to conventionality. Second-born children find experienced parents and an older sibling to play with. They're often referred to by social scientists as "peacemakers." Third-born children (today at least) are often the final child and thus the youngest - the baby in the family. Parents, by this time, are usually more affluent, are often more confident, and are more carefree (sometimes even careless) in raising them. As a result, such children are often the "rebels" in the family and the slowest to mature socially. My own family certainly reflects this model. Of course in times past, when having only three or four children was considered a small family, and large families sometimes numbered more than a dozen offspring, the element of birth order was less of a factor except perhaps where the first and last children were concerned.

The family of Camille and Julie Pissarro reflects this. The eldest son, Lucien, became a steadfast, multitalented, respected leader in the late-nineteenth century art world, productive, responsible, and diligent, both in his art studies with his father and later in life as a businessman in England where he owned his own publishing/printing firm. Lucien Pissarro was born in 1863. Six children and 21 years later, when Paulemile Pissarro was born in 1884, his father was already 54 years old and well on his way to becoming a highly respected Impressionist painter. The hard years were largely behind them. The daily struggles for Julie Pissarro to manage a large family without the aid of a steady source of income, fighting off the ravages of poverty, war, and social upheavals while her husband did nothing but paint all day long, had taken their toll, but by the same token, she'd survived and grown strong in their wake.

Of all Camille Pissarro's sons, Paulemile may have been the most naturally talented. Among his father's papers (found after he died), was a very precocious drawing of a white horse done when the boy was five. The drawing had been much praised by the French writer Mirbeau. Paulemile entered college at the age of fifteen but left after a short time to study and travel with his father. And, unlike his brothers, Paulemile's art education was not limited to just that of his father's tutelage. He attended a private art academy in Paris during the winter months when his by now modestly well-off parents lived in the city. Paulemile was just nineteen when his father died in 1903.

After his father's death, Paulemile moved with his mother to their summer home near Eragny. Eragny was a mere 30 km from Giverny, the home of his father's closest friend, Claude Monet. And, as he grew older, it was to Monet that Paulemile gravitated, adopting him both as a father figure, teacher, and friend. And it was Monet, as much or more than his father, who was to influence his art as the youngest Pissarro yearned to follow in his father's footsteps. Paulemile exhibited for the first time in the 1905 Salon des Independants. The entry was an Impressionist landscape entitled Bords de l'Epte a Eragny. But, like most young artists, despite his family name and in his case, no pleas from his father not to use it, Paulemile struggled. It was a struggle his mother recognised all too well, and a life she hated. It was not one she wished to pass on to her son. She encouraged him to give up his art. For a time, Paulemile worked as an auto mechanic and test driver, later as a lace and textile designer. His work allowed him virtually no time to paint.

It was his oldest brother, Lucien, who rescued him. He wrote from London and asked Paulemile to send him some early watercolours. Perhaps because of the Pissarro name, the work quickly sold to British collectors. Paulemile quit the lace factory, married, and spent the W.W. I years painting in the north of France (illness kept from military service) and selling his work through his brother in London. The individuality and confidence he acquired during this time, along with the teachings of Monet and the strong influence of CÚzanne in his work, made him immensely popular, especially in England. His older brother shepherded his career, gaining him entrance into the New English Art Club, The Allied Artists' Association, and the Baillie Gallery, where his work sold steadily. In France, along with his close friends van Gongen, Vlaminck, de Segonzac, and Raoul Dufy, he became one of the stars of Postimpressionism. He adopted the palette knife over the brush as his preferred painting tool and, more than his father's or even Monet's work, his own painting began to resemble more closely that of CÚzanne.

The 1920s and 1930s were to be the strongest period in Paulemile Pissarro's painting career. In 1930 he divorced his first wife and married a second. They purchased a home near Clecy on the Orne River in the area of hills and valleys known as Swiss Normandy. There they raised three children - two sons and a daughter. His oldest son, Hugues-Claude also became a painter. In 1967, Paulemile Pissarro had his first one-man show in the United States at the Wally Findlay Galleries in New York, which led to wide recognition and success in this country, far in excess of that of his brothers, or even his father during his lifetime. The last of the first-generation Pissarros, Paulemile died in 1972, and today his work often rivals his father's in popularity with collectors and museums. In all this, one has to wonder how much of his success can be attributed to being the "baby" in the family.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
29 March 2001

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