Camille Pissarro’s principal subject matter in the 1870s and 1880s was the area of the Ile de France, its villages and the surrounding countryside. His landscapes of this period continue to show the influence of Camille Corot, whom he proclaimed to be his teacher. Richard Brettell notes that at this time Pissarro’s work is still within the ideal landscape tradition, and that the landscapes of Pontoise are an “awkwardly modern Arcadia.” Nevertheless, Pissarro was wary of aestheticism and avoided it in his paintings. He wrote to his son Lucien in 1883, “Aestheticism is a kind of romanticism more or less doubled by trickery; it’s a kind of indirect beaten path.”
The figure takes on new importance in Pissarro’s landscapes of 1880-1885. In this painting, two groups of peasants are pictured walking along the road: the two women toward the front are just off-center; a man and a horse behind them are midway down the winding path. These two groups contribute to the sense of scale and recession. The strong horizontal lines of the horizon and the middleground are relieved by the recession of the road and the vertical forms of the people that are echoed by the trees, shorter on the left, taller on the right. Still, the composition is built essentially of successive horizontal bands, a device characteristic of Pissarro’s work of this period. Pissarro’s brushstroke is somewhat smaller than in the 1870s, and the composition more constructive and layered, suggesting the influence of Paul Cézanne, who had worked alongside him in Auvers from 1872-1874.
The sky is bluer in this composition than in many of Pissarro landscapes, in which the atmosphere is predominantly gray. Puffy, white cumulus clouds create a lively pattern, suggesting more movement than in the ground below. In the broad, horizontal swaths of landscape, demarcated by a hedge and then by the top of the hill, are seven houses, all but one with red roofs, the color echoing in the cap of the foreground peasant woman.
Pissarro’s attraction to the landscape around Pontoise is mentioned in a letter to his son Lucien in January 1883. “I recall perfectly the multicolored houses and the desire I had to interrupt my trip to makes several curious studies. But if I stopped at all the pretty towns and villages, at all the beautiful motifs, the voyage would be long; … it would be a dream for a painter to stop and take up his path and to continue and stop forever."
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Painting and Sculpture, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2006, English / Hebrew