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The Lasting Impression of French Impressionism

Painting in the Great Outdoors
Camille Pissarro<br/> French, 1830–1903<br/> <em>Place du Théâtre Français, Paris: Rain</em>, 1898<br/> Oil on canvas<br/> The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
  Camille Pissarro
French, 1830–1903
Place du Théâtre Français, Paris: Rain, 1898
Oil on canvas
The William Hood Dunwoody Fund


Camille Pissarro was the oldest of the Impressionists, and the only one to participate in all eight exhibitions. He firmly believed in freedom of thought and expression, and viewed Impressionism as a kind of emancipation from tradition. Rather than making art to satisfy public tastes, the Impressionists made art to please themselves.

In Place du Théâtre Français, Paris: Rain, Pissarro painted a cityscape of a newly rebuilt Paris. Characteristic of many Impressionist works, the palette is light and bright, and the brushwork is painterly. Pissarro chose an unconventional, asymmetrical view from above the street, creating a strong diagonal through the painting, toward the building in the background. The subject is not the city's buildings, but rather the transitory movement of the horses, buggies, and people transecting the wide boulevard. The pavement glistens and Paris seems exciting, even on a rainy day. This painting is one of nine similar views by Pissarro, and part of a series of 32 views of Paris.

Like other French Impressionists, Pissarro was very interested in painting en plein air, to capture the immediacy and ever-changing effects of light on the scene. The invention of a squeezable metal paint tube to hold and dispense pigments replaced the previously employed pig's bladder, making it easier for painters to carry their materials out of the studio to paint on location.

Because Pissarro had an eye ailment when he painted this picture, he actually worked from a hotel room, looking out and down through its window to observe this scene.

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1. Although Robert Koehler was not technically an Impressionist, there are impressionistic qualities in this painting, showing Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. The closed umbrellas and shiny street capture the outdoors just after a rain. Koehler was the first director of what is now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD).
Robert Koehler, American, 1850–1917. Rainy Evening on Hennepin Avenue, c. 1902. Oil on canvas. Gift by subscription in honor of the artist.
2. The gray light of twilight is captured in this ‘snapshot’ of the Luxembourg Gardens. Although John Singer Sargent was not technically an Impressionist, this painting shows the influence of Impressionism in that it was painted en plein air.
John Singer Sargent, American, 1856–1925. Luxembourg Gardens at Twilight, 1879. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mrs. C. C. Bovey and Mrs. C. D. Velie.
3. Impressionist Alfred Sisley lived in Fountainebleau, near this medieval town of Moret. The artist painted en plein air to capture the feeling of fresh country air, the sight of the puffy clouds, and the ambience of a tranquil river town.
Alfred Sisley, French, 1839–99. Le Pont de Moret, 1888. Oil on canvas. The John R. Van Derlip Fund.