Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Flooding #2: Detecting Pissarro and Eragny-sur-Epte

Flood, Twilight Effect, Eragny (1893) by Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) painted two versions of the floods of the River near Eragny, northwest of Paris.

This one is known as Flood, Twilight Effect, Eragny and was painted in 1893.  This is Flood, White Effect, Eragny.  That dates this to after his neo-Impressionist period of the 1880s.

Pissarro apparently used to prefer to finish his paintings in one sitting and worked plein air and painted what he saw.  Pissarro explained his technique of painting outdoors as follows
"Work at the same time upon sky, water, branches, ground, keeping everything going on and equal basis and unceasingly rework until you have got it. Paint generously and unhesitatingly, for it is best not to lose the first impression."
It's interesting to try and work out where his paintings were painted from.

This painting is confusing because it isn't possible to tell which area is flooded and whether the river is in the foreground or the background.

Using the satellite view of the current landscape around Eragny as a guide, I began to develop my landscape detective skills
  • The painting suggests Pissarro was in a position of some height - maybe the upper storeys of a house - or the side of a hill?  It was certainly his practice in later life to paint scenes while sat by an open hotel window due to a medical condition which meant he could not work outdoors except in warm weather.
  • Given the swathe of trees in the middle of the floods it seems possible that the painting was of a perspective very near to where the A15 now crosses the river.  
  • Alternatively perhaps the painting was made on the west bank looking across the fields on the western flood plain of the Seine towards Eragny - and the trees are those  normally seen on the eastern bank
  • Normally, locating the church is a good guide as the spire acts as a location marker.  In this instance it's more difficult - until you realise that the church has been completely rebuilt and no longer has a conventional spire!
So my initial conclusion was that Picasso was located somewhere near the Chemin de Chasse Maree on the west bank and was looking across the river towards Eragny.  I was still puzzled as to how he'd got the height above the fields.

That was until I found out that he died at Eragny-sur-Epte, a small village northwest of Paris!
Pissarro died in Eragny-sur-Epte on either November 12 or November 13, 1903 and was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
Camille Pissarro - biography
Having located this second Eragny - Eragny-sur-Epte - on Google Maps, it then becomes very apparent that this is the "Eragny" of the paintings. The reason for this conclusion is that a very similar painting a year earlier is titled View of Bazincourt, Flood, Morning Effect - and Bazincourt, according to the map is due west of Eragny-sur-Epte.  The fact that the main street going through Eragny-sur-Epte is also called Rue Camille Pissarro rather tends to confirm this as the location where these paintings were painted.

View of Bazincourt, Flood, Morning Effect (1892)
It then becomes clear when you look at the map with a geographer's eye (did I ever tell you what my degree is in?) that the flood plain of the River Epte lies in between Eragny and Bazincourt and is marked on today's map by a line of trees.

It therefore seems very likely that these paintings were all painted from a window in Pissarro's house in Eragny-Sur-Epte and are a view of the flood plain between his house and Bazincourt on the other side of the River Epte.

Have you ever tried to work out where paintings were painted?

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