Le jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise, la mère Bellette signed and dated 'C. Pissarro 1882' (lower right) oil on canvas 21 7/16 x 25 7/8 in. (54.5 x 65.7cm) Painted in 1882
PROVENANCE Julie Pissarro (wife of the artist). Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the above in December 1913). Galerie Georges Petit, Paris. Alfred Bergaud, Paris (acquired from the above); sold [Collection de feu M.A.B], Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1-2 March, 1920, lot 52. Gérard Frères, Paris. Fernand Bouisson, Paris (by 1930). A.& R. Ball, New York. Wildenstein Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1947). Acquired from the above in 1948 and thence by descent to the present owner.
EXHIBITED Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Exposition Camille Pissarro, 1892, no. 20. Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, L'Exposition de l'oeuvre de Camille Pissarro, 1904, no. 69. New York, Wildenstein Gallery, C. Pissarro, 1965, no. 42bis.
LITERATURE J. Bailly-Herzberg, Correspondance de Camille Pissarro, III, Paris, 1988, p. 193, under no. 750; and p. 210, under no. 768. A. Ernst, 'Camille Pissarro', La Paix, Paris, February 3, 1892, p. 2. G. Poulain, 'De Courbet à Chagall chez M. et Mme. Fernand Bouisson', La Renaissance de l'Art Français, Paris, December 1930, p. 342, illustrated. L.-R. Pissarro and L. Venturi, Camille Pissarro, I, Paris, 1939, p. 160, no. 558; illustrated in vol. II, pl. 115. J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro, Catalogue critique des peintures, II, Paris, 2005, p. 464, no. 696, illustrated.
Pissarro's Le jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise, la mère Bellette dates from the final year of the artist's stay in Pontoise, a period which saw the full maturity of his Impressionist experimentation, and which indeed was emblematic of the innovations of the movement as a whole.
He first stayed in the town, some 30 miles northwest of Paris, in 1866-68, returning to take up more permanent residence in 1872 following the destruction of his studio in Louveciennes during the Franco-Prussian war. Pissarro's years in Pontoise resulted in more than 300 paintings of the town and the surrounding area. As Joachim Pissarro has noted, 'not even Courbet at Ornans, Chintreuil at Igny, Corot at Ville-d'Avray, Millet at Barbizon or Monet at Argenteuil worked with such intensity, producing such a diversity of motifs in a single place.' (J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., II, p. 97).
Pissarro lived at several locations in the town, most often in the Hermitage neighborhood, a patchwork of smallholdings, market gardens and vegetable plots such as the Jardin de Maubuisson. This mixed community ownership derived from the dissolution of the original Church landholdings after the French Revolution. Many of the plots survive to this day, meaning that the majority of the locations of Pissarro's views can be securely identified. The line of houses to the right of the present picture appear frequently in his compositions, and still stand at 18 rue Adrien-Lemoine, while the rising ground in the distance is the Côte Saint-Denis. Another painting of the same view made in the summer of 1876 is now in the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia (J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., II, p. 319, no. 440).
Pissarro's commitment to documenting the life of Pontoise is further demonstrated by the identity of the figure working in the foreground. The cadastral survey for the Val d'Oise lists a M. BELLETTE Victor Hyacinthe owning plot 447 on the quai du Pothuis between 1882 and 1898. This makes the Bellette family neighbors of Pissarro, who in 1882 was living at 85 quai du Pothuis, now 21 quai Eugène-Turpin. The quai de Pothuis backs on to the Jardin de Maubuisson, so the artist would have only had to carry his easel a few steps out of the back gate of his property to observe his neighbor in her garden and begin working on this canvas.
Mère Bellette is seen harvesting cabbages, presumably the last of the winter crop: the bare branches of the plum trees behind her, the silver-grey over-wintered ricks of straw and the fluffy white clouds in the clear blue sky suggest that it was painted in the late winter or early spring. Although the traditionalist Parisian critics were less enamored of the relevance of cabbages as the fitting subject for a painting, they were a central crop for the smallholders of Pontoise and so a characteristic subject for Pissarro. He showed a picture of the same location in the first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874 (Le champ de choux, Pontoise, now in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), which drew from the critic Jules-Antoine Castagnary the grudging comment that Pissarro had 'a deplorable fondness for market gardens and does not shrink from any depictions of cabbages and other domestic vegetables. Yet these defects of logic or vulgarities in taste do not detract from his fine technical qualities' (review in Le Siècle, 29 April 1874, quoted in J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., II, p. 232 under no. 294).
The decade preceding the painting of Le jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise, la mère Bellette was notable for the close and mutually-inspirational relationship between Pissarro and Cézanne. Pissarro had first met the younger artist at the Académie Suisse in Paris in 1859, and increasingly acted as his mentor. In August 1872 Cézanne moved briefly to Pontoise, returning regularly over the next ten years to paint with Pissarro. From May to October 1881 he took a house down the street from Pissarro at 31 quai de Pothuis, returning again the following summer. The two artists regularly painted side by side in the surrounding country, producing a sequence of works that chart the evolution of their artistic relationship. This can be seen, for example, in two views of the Jardin de Maubuisson painted in spring 1877, Pissarro's Le Jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise, printemps and Cézanne's Le potager de Pissarro à Pontoise (J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., II, p. 349, no. 494; J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne, p. 212, no. 311). As Joseph Rishel notes: 'Pissarro is justly credited with having transformed Cézanne's style and, to some degree, his temperament by encouraging him to interact more fully with nature and by initiating him into a more deliberate, less subjective approach to his craft. The mutual influence that ensued between these two artists over the next ten years is one of the great chapters in the history of nineteenth century painting. At its beginning the sage Pissarro endeavored to calm the ferocious young Cézanne, but, as time passed, the pupil progressively found himself in the lead, encouraging the older artist to follow his example in testing the limits of Impressionist landscape painting.' (J.J. Rishel, Cézanne, exh. cat., Paris, Grand Palais, and elsewhere, 1995-1996, p. 229). This searching, experimental attitude can certainly be seen in Le jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise, la mère Bellette. While the composition reflects the concerns of the pivotal Pontoise period, the short neat brushstrokes and bright palette look forward to his influence on and allegiance with the Neo-Impressionist and Pointillist trends of the late 1880s.
By placing Mère Bellette at the centre of the composition Pissarro is also asserting the political and ideological approach that underpins so many of his paintings. Despite his parents' position as moderately successful merchants, Pissarro identified with the outsider, the worker and the iconoclast. This was perhaps reflective of his early life in the distant Danish West Indies, his Jewish heritage, his rejection of the Academy and the official Salon and even his unconventional relationship with Julie Vellay, his parents' maid and the mother of his children. This outlook found further expression in his espousal of a gentle Libertarian Anarchism. 'The peasant stood as paradigmatic of Pissarro's concerns. The life of workers, the dignity and moral reward of work, the restorative benefit of being grounded in one's work - whether by contact with the soil of the fields or by engagement with paint and canvas in the studio. This was not a romantic's view of the wonders of nature or the mysteries of creative genius; it was a materialist's understanding of the productive labor that sustains human life, mentally as well as physically' (R. Schiff, 'Pissarro: Dirty Painter', in Camille Pissarro: Impressions of City and Country, p. 15).
Despite his ideological position his paintings are never overtly didactic or indeed political, and his representations of working people and daily life display a careful sensibility. Small towns such as Pontoise showed clearly the tensions of the period, poised on the threshold between traditional agricultural society and an industrialization signaled by the arrival of the Paris-Rouen railway line in 1863. The return of conscripted soldiers in 1872 brought new ideas to a local population swelled by poor Parisians driven out of the city by Baron Haussmann's rebuilding of the city in the 1860s and rich Parisians seeking to build suburban villas. This tension is vividly shown in Le jardin de Mauibuisson, Pontoise, la mère Bellette in the contrasting roofs of grey-blue slate and red tile, which is reflective of new development and infill. Despite this weighted environment, Pissarro avoids the sentimentality and narrative of artists of a previous generation such as Millet, preferring instead to celebrate the simple realities he saw in front of him. As Joris-Karl Huysmans noted of the 1882 Impressionist exhibition, 'in addition to his landscapes of the Seine-et-Oise, M. Pissarro exhibits a series peasant men and women, and lo! the painter reveals himself to us in a new guise once again. As I have written before, I think, the human figure would often present a biblical allure in his work. No longer: M. Pissarro has put reminiscences of Millet firmly behind him; he paints country folk, without false grandeur, simply, the way he sees them. ... [They] are little masterpieces' (J.K. Huysmans, L'Art moderne, Paris, 1883, pp. 26-27, quoted in J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., I, p. 175).
Identifying Le jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise, la mère Bellette as a picture of the early spring of 1882 sets it at a turbulent time in Pissarro's career, since it saw him embroiled in the continuing disagreements among the leading artists associated with Impressionism. In December 1881 Gauguin had resigned from the seventh Impressionist exhibition, planned for March 1882, in protest against the increasing dominance of Degas and his friends such as Rafaelli and Zandomenighi, who he considered to be insufficiently progressive or independent of the mainstream tradition. As Gauguin wrote to Pissarro 'Another two years and you will be left alone in the midst of the worst kind of tricksters' (quoted in J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., I, p. 174). Pissarro had a high opinion of Degas, but as one of the principal organizers of the exhibition was caught between him and the majority of the group who were dedicated to maintaining their independent vision. Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Caillebotte and Renoir rejoined the exhibition when Pissarro finally agreed to drop Degas. Each artist presented work no more than 2 years old and as a result gave an encyclopedic survey of their Impressionist discoveries.
Le jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise, la mère Bellette was not one of the 36 pictures that Pissarro exhibited in that exhibition, 27 of which were figure compositions, a format that he had increasingly favored from about 1880. Instead it was retained by the artist and first exhibited by his dealer Durand-Ruel in 1892. That exhibition appears to have been well received, and a letter survives in which Pissarro gives the dealer his prices for a number of works which had been presented to an unidentified American collector (J. Bailly-Herzberg, op. cit., under no. 768). He valued the present work at 2,000 Francs, a considerable sum. This is clearly an indication of his satisfaction with the work since it is the same price as he suggested for the beautiful Le Côte des Boeufs, Pontoise which was one of his favorites and which had hung in his bedroom in Pontoise (now London, National Gallery; J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., II, no. 488).
This picture was retained by Pissarro's wife Julie, before passing into the famous collections of Alfred Bergaud and Fernand Bouisson, Prime Minister of France in 1935. This provenance is shared by a number of significant Impressionist pictures such as Alfred Sisley's Le pont de Villeneuve-la-Garenne formerly in the Ittleson Collection and now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Le jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise, la mère Bellette was later exhibited at the Wildenstein Gallery in New York in 1948, where it was purchased by the family of the present owner.