CAMILLE PISSARRO (1830-1903)
Le Père Melon fendant du Bois
gouache on linen
12 5/8 x 9 3/4 in. (32 x 24 3/4 cm.)
M. May, Paris
Sale: Drouot-Richelieu, Paris, December 14, 2001, lot 7
Sale: Sotheby’s, New York, Thursday, May 6, 2004 [Lot 00122], Impressionist & Modern Art Part One
Private Collection, California
G. Goetschy, Exposition des artistes indépendants, Le Voltaire, Paris, April 5, 1882, (discussed p. 1-2)
L.R. Pissarro and L. Venturi, Camille Pissarro, Son Art – Son Oeuvre, vol. I, Paris, 1939, no. 1336, catalogued p. 266 (vol. II, illustrated p. 262)
C.Moffett, The New Painting, Impressionism 1874-1886 (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986 (p. 355)
Paris, 35, Boulevard des Capucines, 6ème exposition de Peinture, 1881, no. 78 (titled Fendeur du bois)
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, L’oeuvre de C. Pissarro, 1904, no. 137
The New Painting, Impressionism 1874-1886 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. & The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, 1986
Camille Pissarro’s paintings of rural workers are influenced by his Barbizon school predecessors like Millet and Corot, but capture the individual people more uniquely and are imbued with the innovation of Impressionism. It may be difficult for a 21st century eye to appreciate its modernity, but in 1880, Le Père Melon fendant du Bois is as resolute in its defiance of Salon hegemony as it is a modern painting based on Pissarro’s own sensations of color. This painting presents a harmonious ensemble of figures staged within an atmosphere of imbuement, full of color and light.
Works by Pissarro featuring male figures are rare, and this particular individual was a favorite of the artist. He gave him the nickname “le Père Melo” because of his melon-shaped hat and painted him several times during the 1880s. This piece has been in the same collection for over 15 years and has been protected from the light in a UV filtering frame. It has been extensively published and exhibited, most notably in the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881.
This subject matter is among his most widely admired and is represented in the most prestigious museum collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, among many others.
Camille Pissarro is surely among the most protean figures among artists — not in the rarified sense of Picasso’s genius for acrobatic feats of creative dexterity, but as the Impressionist with a broad range of interests, Pissarro was an inveterate experimenter least bound by rules or norms. He was also the quasi-ringmaster of a concerted effort to breach the ramparts of the Salon, challenge its conventionality and bourgeois attitudes and raze that monolithic institution as an anarchist might — stone by stone, brick by brick. It may be difficult for a 21st century eye to appreciate its modernity, but in 1880 and within the context of the coming liberalism of the Third Republic, Le Père Melon fendant du Bois is as resolute in its defiance of Salon hegemony as it is a modern painting based on his own sensations of color and the presumed nature of spectral light as outlined by new scientific discoveries. It is among those works that assailed what critic Gustave Goetschy called, “the rugged virile simplicity of Millet” by brazenly emphasizing the immaterial effects of light and color in the interest of promoting freedom from covetous bourgeois attachment to materiality. Of Jewish bourgeois stock, Pissarro might seem ill-suited for the task of assuming the mantle of Jean-Francois Millet, recently passed in 1875. But as a man of great humility, utterly sincere in his faith in the goodness of others, Pissarro worked incessantly and lived a simple life of honest toil so that the requisite sympathy and understanding of rural living was a deep-seated element of his own experience.
Le Père Melon fendant du Bois was painted at a time Pissarro was in deep communion with Degas and collaborating extensively on a printmaking project. It is probably to that great draftsman as well as the often-cited encouragement he received from his friend Théodore Duret that we owe his concerted devotion to the figure and a two-year phase dominated by paintings, drawings and prints of rural workers and farmers. Yet it is Cézanne with whom he often worked side-by-side during the 1860s and 1870s and the fecund reciprocity of their relationship that Pissarro, at least in part, owes the principal strength of a work such as this. It is, as Clement Greenberg observed in 1994, that Pissarro’s uniformity foreshadowed American post-war abstraction. “He [Pissarro] was greatly concerned about the ‘synthesis,’ the harmony of unity of a work of art, and right so, for a painting, like a living organism, exists by the simultaneous relation of its parts.” Painting, for Pissarro (at least in this period of his oeuvre) was a continuous act or process that emerges from “the first thing I strive to catch — its harmonic agreement in form and all I see are the taches (stains, spots, marks).” Le Père Melon fendant du Bois demonstrates well that process to its fully realized completion by creating a harmonious ensemble of figures staged within an atmosphere of imbuement, full of color and light. Coyly and utilizing entirely separate means, Pissarro has not abandoned Millet’s strength of virtue in the slightest.
Pissarro in his studio examining works on paper from a folio, Éragny, circa 1890, Musée Camille Pissarro, Pontoise
Camille Pissarro, Le Pere Mélon allumant sa pipe, circa 1879-1880
Camille Pissarro, Il tagliaegna (The Woodcutter) 1879
Catalog and Video
The record price for a Pissarro painting at auction was set in February 2014 when a cityscape from 1897 sold for $32M USD. More recently, an 1888 canvas depicting two peasants achieved the second-highest price for Pissarro at auction, selling for over $17M USD in February 2020, demonstrating the strength of the artist’s market.
The graph prepared by Art Market Research shows that since 1976, paintings by Pissarro have increased at a 5.3% annual rate of return.
As his Impressionist contemporaries reach staggering new sums every year, attention is directed to the relatively accessible works of Camille Pissarro. In 2019, Meules (1891) by Claude Monet sold for over $110M USD, setting a world record at auction for the artist.
The market for Pissarro remains a fruitful area for appreciation as the record for Pissarro at auction is $32M USD. There is much more room for the Pissarro market to grow as his contemporaries’ supply of paintings dry up completely. This impending market scarcity forces a re-evaluation of Pissarro, one of the historically monetarily undervalued Impressionist Masters.
Top Results at Auction
Comparable Paintings Sold at Auction
- Later painting than Le Pere Melon, similar medium of gouache but on board
- Rockefeller provenance was helpful to achieving high result
- Many figures pictured, but scene is a bit bland when compared to Le Pere Melon which has more direct action in the foreground
- Same medium but slightly larger than Le Pere Melon
- Done 10 years later than Le Pere Melon and not during the important timeframe of the Paris Impressionist Salons between 1874-1886
- Sale is from 2014, the market for Pissarro has increased at a rate of 5.3% since then
- A very small painting (less than ½ size of Le Pere Melon) done in the same desirous year, 1880
- Sold at a small auction house – perhaps at a more “name brand” house it would have achieved a higher result, still very strong for a work on board
- Pissarro was known at this time for celebrating rural workers in his compositions, which continued an important change in art history of the celebration of everyday individuals, similar to Le Pere Melon.
- Almost same size as Le Pere Melon, similar medium, but later date of 1889
- Sold in 2013, the market for his work has improved since that time
Related Works in Museums
The definitive authority on the authenticity of paintings by Van Gogh, the Van Gogh Museum inspected this painting in January 2020 and provided this letter of authenticity. During that inspection, X-ray revealed a second painting under the surface – a portrait of a man.