Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro was born on 10 July 1830, in Charlotte-Amalie, on the island of Saint Thomas, Danish West Indies (now the US Virgin Islands). From the age of twelve to seventeen, Pissarro attended a school in Passy, near Paris, where he began to draw. Returning to Saint Thomas in 1847, Pissarro was more interested in sketching than entering the family business and, after meeting the Danish painter Fritz Melbye, sailed with him to Venezuela in 1852, where he remained until 1854.
In 1855, Pissarro moved to Paris to pursue art and he began to take classes at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1856. Pissarro would also attend the Académie Suisse, where he met Armand Guillaumin, Paul Cézanne, and Claude Monet, the latter of whom introduced Pissarro to Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. He exhibited at the Paris Salon for the first time in 1859. Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet were amongst Pissarro’s most significant influences during this early period; informing his style of broadly painted naturalism (sometimes using a palette knife), executed en plein air with an incipient Impressionist palette. Over the course of the 1860s, Pissarro established a lifelong pattern of working outside Paris whilst staying in the city. He continued to exhibit at the Salon (1865, 1866, 1868), though would grow increasingly disillusioned with the traditional system and standards over the course of the decade, impressing younger artists such as Monet and Renoir in discussions at the Café Guérbois with his fierce arguments about egalitarianism.
The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 saw Pissarro move to London, where he met up with Monet and dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. He lived in South London, painting atmospheric scenes of the suburbs. In 1872, he returned to France, settling in Pontoise where he swiftly reconnected with Guillaumin, Cézanne, Monet, Degas and Renoir amongst others. The following year, he helped establish the Société Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs et Graveurs, which held its first exhibition in 1874 – the first Impressionist exhibition. Pissarro would exhibit in all eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886, the only Impressionist artist to do so. During the mid-1880s, Pissarro’s style of painting would take on a new Neo-Impressionist direction under the guidance of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac: applying paint in dots of contrasting pigments that would be recognised by the eye as a single hue. By 1889, Pissarro was painting in a more traditionally Impressionist style again, though with a freer application of paint. He also began to paint from higher vantage points, and depicted urban scenes of Rouen, Le Havre, Dieppe, London and Paris in the final years of his life. In 1892, Durand-Ruel held a successful retrospective of his work at his gallery in Paris. Pissarro died on 13 November 1903, in Paris.
The Musée Camille Pissarro in Pontoise was inaugurated in 1980, and holds a major collection of his work. Pissarro’s work can also be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon; the National Gallery, London; the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.