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The Old Road to Ennery at Pontoise

Camille Pissarro
The Old Road to Ennery at Pontoise, 1877
Oil on canvas
92 x 150.5 cm
Signed and dated lower left: C. Pissarro. 1877
Gift of Nahum and Sheila Gelber; Montreal

Pissarro's most significant mature years were spent at Pontoise, where he lived from 1872 to 1884. The small town and the rural world beyond the suburbs engaged him completely and provided an apparently endless set of possibilities for a thoroughly modern interpretation of landscape. His commitment to nature and human values found their full expression at Pontoise, and it was there that his reputation as the foremost painter of rustic life was established. There is no doubt Pissarro saw himself as a painter who revolutionized tradition. Émile Zola, who followed his career with increasing interest, thought him by 1876 more revolutionary than Monet.

The new and old roads from Pontoise to Ennery figure in several of the artist's works of the early 1870s. These, however, frequently focus on a small section of landscape. In 1877, in this unusually large and ambitious painting, Pissarro depicted the broader configuration of the land in a panoramic view conceived in a heroic mode. The road is seen from the foot of the hills, where the flat, fertile fields unfold for a considerable distance. It is a noble and austere landscape defined exclusively in visual terms, with the figures reduced to the level of incidental detail in order to give nature a sense of scale. As always in Pissarro's work, the orchestration of colours is supremely refined. Interestingly, the painting exudes an authority that conveys none of his hopelessness about his desperate prospects: utterly destitute, in the spring of 1877 he had been threatened with seizure of his paintings.