CAMILLE PISSARRO (1830-1903) Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa"

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Lot 12
Tête de jeune fille de profil dite "la Rosa"

Sold for US$ 1,770,312 inc. premium

Impressionist & Modern Art

13 May 2021, 11:00 EDT

New York

Tête de jeune fille de profil dite "la Rosa"
signed and dated 'C. Pissarro. 1896' (lower right)
oil on canvas
21 3/4 x 18 1/4 in (55.2 x 46.3 cm)
Painted in 1896


  • Provenance
    Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, no. D16583 (acquired directly from the artist on April 16, 1896).
    Émile Boivin Collection, Paris (acquired from the above on April 16, 1896).
    Thence by descent; their sale, Thierry de Maigret, Paris, March 20, 2013, lot 118.
    Richard Green Gallery, London (acquired at the above sale).
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013.

    Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Oeuvres récentes de Camille Pissarro, April 15 - May 9, 1896, no. 15.
    Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Camille Pissarro, April 7 - 30, 1904, no. 96.
    Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Quelques toiles importantes de collections particulières des XIXe et XXe siècles, April 23 - May 31, 1945, no. 34.
    Paris, Musée Carnavalet, Chefs-d'oeuvre des collections parisiennes: peintures et dessins de l'École française du XIXe siècle, December 1952 – February 1953, no. 79.
    Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Exposition Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903), June 26 - September 14, 1956, no. 84.

    M. Méry, 'Les Salonnets', Le Moniteur des Arts, May 1, 1896 (illustrated p. 198).
    J. Bailly-Herzberg (ed.), Correspondance de Camille Pissarro, vol. IV, 1895 - 1898, Paris, 1989, no. 1229 (p. 186 (no. 15)) & no. 1199 (p. 149).
    J. Pissarro & C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro, Catalogue critique des peintures, vol. III, Paris, 2005, no. 1113 (illustrated p. 701).

    Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa" is a beautifully wrought painting that carries an impeccable provenance and epitomizes the artist's masterful fully developed, late oeuvre. There are very few extant works of exceptional quality from this end-of-the century date. Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa" is a significant and rare example from Pissarro's brief but highly important and sought-after Pointillist Period.

    The present work is part of a series of five paintings that Pissarro did of his Flemish servant, Rosa, at the end of 1895 and beginning of 1896. On the 4th of December 1895, the artist wrote to his son Lucien: "I'm doing a few figure paintings based on la Rosa [...] I'm fairly pleased with a size-fifteen canvas La ravadeuse dite ''La Rosa'', which is very like my figures of 1882 - 1883, only a touch fresher" (Camille Pissarro quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Snollaerts Durand-Ruel, Pissarro, Critical Catalogue of Paintings, vol. III, Paris, 2005, p. 694). A few weeks later, on 15 January 1896, Pissarro wrote again to his son, with news that he had, "finished four size-ten and fifteen canvases based on Rosa" (Camille Pissarro quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Snollaerts Durand-Ruel, ibid., p. 694).

    Although portraiture did not take up a large part in his oeuvre, the portraits that Pissarro did paint fall in very much with his Anarchist ideals, focusing on servants and laborers. Rosa is perhaps the most charming of his subjects, with this work being his most thoughtful and fully realized composition. Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa", calls to mind one of Pissarro's portraits from the mentioned earlier period, Jeune paysanne prenant son café (1881) found in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Both paintings capture a young girl during an intimate, pensive moment. Portrayed in a cropped composition, Pissarro does not reveal much of the sitter's surroundings, apart from a window frame to the left side of the figure.

    In Jeune paysanne prenant son café, Pissarro's signature palette is still incipient compared to the present work. Executed in precise small brushstrokes of blues and yellows, the monotonous composition reveals a certain flatness and create a distance between the sitter and viewer. When he revisits the same subject a few decades later in his series of Rosa, the artist's painting style had evolved. Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa" is executed with a certain ease and eloquence that he had not reached yet in his early career. Pissarro's effortless bold, short brushstrokes and application of thick impasto make it a vigorous and playful composition. It exemplifies how Pissarro's technique and use of color had matured over time. Visual complexity is created through the tension between the multi-directional striped patterning of the girl's skirt and blouse and the geometric blocks and right angles that contain and structure the room around her.

    Within the examples of Pissarro's portraits of Rosa, the present work is the most intimate and inviting example. Executed in a cropped view, the sitter is seated on a sofa in an interior, with her elbow leaning on her knee and her hand supporting her chin. With a soft look on her face, she gazes in the distance as if she is deeply occupied with her own thoughts. Pissarro executed her rosy cheeks in soft pink hues, which accentuate her youthful appearance. Daylight is entering the room through the window, making the window-facing side of sitter light up gently. Although a quiet and introspective scene, it is by no means muted in execution. Pissarro utilizes his signature vivid colors and contrasting, painterly brushstrokes so the tranquil vignette vibrates with energy and is truly captivating, drawing the viewer into the private world of the sitter.

    Intensified colors and fluent brushwork became Pissarro's trademark in the latter part of his career. Between 1886 and 1890, Pissarro joined the Post-Impressionist movement. From the early 1880s, Pissarro began to research new painting techniques, as he was in search for a method that would allow for his brushstrokes to gain more autonomy. This led him to the Pointillist theories of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, who had a rational, almost scientific, approach to painting which was based on chromatic analysis of painting. This radical group of young artists began to push the boundaries of Impressionism and Pissarro found artistic allies in them. Compositions were divided into grids of small dots, each spot representing a fragmented element of pure color. Instead of mixing colors, the dots would establish an illusion of shading in the composition. The method satisfied Pissarro's artistic needs and he described these new ideas as "a modern synthesis by methods based on science [...]. To substitute optical mixing for the mixing of pigments; in other words: the decomposition of tones into their constitutive elements. Because optical mixing brings about a more intense luminosity than does the mixing of pigments" (Camille Pissarro quoted in C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts & C. Duvivier Le premier des impressionnistes, exh. cat., Paris, 2017, pp. 113-114).

    His radical decision to join the Pointillists sparked something inside Pissarro and it ultimately led to a renewed artistic outpouring, as if the artist had experienced rebirth. During the Huitième Exposition de peinture on rue Laffitte in 1886 – also known as the final Impressionist exhibition – Pissarro launched himself as a Post-Impressionist by showcasing works, such as Paysannes ramassant des herbes, Éragny, alongside Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, who where 30 years his junior. It was here where Seurat's masterpiece Un Dimanche après-midi à lÎle de la Grande Jatte was shown to the public for the very first time and would announce the onset of Post-Impressionism. Although Un Dimanche après-midi à lÎle de la Grande Jatte was initially not well received, the painting heralded a new era and allowed for the Post-Impressionist movement to mature in the years to follow. Pissarro adeptly explored various genres of subject matter – rural landscapes, urban architecture, figural groupings, individual portraits – through the lens of Pointillist style and theory.

    However, Pissarro's Neo-Impressionist phase was short-lived, as he abruptly ended his association with Seurat and Signac around 1890. His output of the last four years required a greater form of concentration and a more precise way of painting. Due to the complicated and rather rigid method of the pointillist technique, the artist experienced a lack of spontaneous artistic expression, and he yearned for that spontaneity to return to his practice. With the announcement of Seurat's death in 1891, Pissarro wrote to Lucien: "Dreadful news, Seurat is dead [...] A great loss of art. [...] I daresay you are right, points are finished" (Camille Pissarro quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Snollaerts Durand-Ruel, Pissarro, Critical Catalogue of Paintings, vol. I, Paris, 2005, p. 84). And so, after mastering Impressionist and Post-Impressionist techniques, Pissarro embarked yet again on another artistic voyage.

    Pissarro then began to amalgamate his experiences into one unique visual lexicon. In the following years Pissarro reflected on his own work and would revisit certain subjects and techniques. By keeping up with the times, he also began to explore the concept of serial painting which was also favored by other members from the Impressionist group around the turn of the century. It was a liberation for the artist, who regained his creative freedom again. This transformation was also noticeable in the volume of his work, which quadrupled after 1892. Capturing the same subject at different times of day, in different weather conditions, and from different angles, led to yet another outlook on painting. As Joachim Pissarro describes: "Reprises, revisions, repetitions, variations – these are the strands running through the production of Pissarro's final period. They help us to grasp the significance of his profound commitment to serial painting in his last decade [...] These paintings marked an important step in his career. As if he now developed a passion for painting pictorial variations on a theme. And this passion was only strengthened after he viewed Monet's famous Cathedrals at the Durand-Ruel gallery in 1895, a score of canvases that enthralled him and encouraged him to pursue his own approach to serial painting." (J. Pissarro in J. Pissarro & C. Snollaerts Durand-Ruel, ibid., p. 87).

    At the end of 1895 Pissarro stayed at the Hôtel-Restaurant de Rome at the rue de Lazare Paris, where he chose Rosa as a subject matter for one of his series. At the time, Pissarro was preparing for a one-man exhibition at Galerie Durand-Ruel that took place in the Spring of 1896, and Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa" was created for this occasion. The gallery was Pissarro's dealer since the early 1870s, and an unwritten contract formed the base of their almost 30-year professional relationship, which came with its own ups and downs at times. Paul Durand-Ruel had not been supportive of Pissarro's Pointillists escapades which had resulted in a period of infrequent contact. After a few dismal years for the artist and dealer, business started to pick up again in the year of the exhibition. On 18 September 1895 Pissarro wrote to Durand-Ruel: "Will I be able to count on having one of your rooms for an exhibition in the Spring? I'll have a series of ten or so fairly large figure paintings, a few landscapes, new things, together with those you already have in your possession, they'll add up to a respectable body of work. I would quite like to have a room in April or in May, if possible. I'm working on nudes at the moment; it will be difficult for me to be ready other than the periods I've just indicated. Please tell me what you think" (Camille Pissarro quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Snollaerts Durand-Ruel, ibid., p. 38). His letter was received positively, as Durand-Ruel showcased thirty-five oils in the exhibition titled Oeuvres récentes de Camille Pissarro at the gallery between April 15th and May 9th of the following year. Twelve of those works were lent by the artists, the remaining twenty-three paintings came from Durand Ruel's stock.

    The exhibition was a success, and Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa" was featured in the magazine Le Moniteur des arts published in May of that year. Another work from the series, Petite bonne flamande dite 'La Rosa'', was selected by the art critic François Thiébault-Sisson, who wrote for Le Temps: "The Petite bonne flamande seated in an interior, in front of a door, is a superbly honest piece. The freshness of its feeling combines with the masculine accuracy of its lines, the appeal of the colours, to produce a delightful fragrance of rustic gracefulness" (F. Thiébault-Sisson quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Snollaerts Durand-Ruel, op. cit., p. 701).

    Even though the exhibition was critically well received, financial gain was not guaranteed as Pissarro mentioned during the exhibition that it had "not translated money [...] despite the heaven-sent success [...] Durand has taken everything, and you know on what terms!!! [...] Only two of the paintings that had sold belonged to me, two trifling little things. So there you have the other side of the picture my dear: a tremendous success and no collectors, their fear of buying is enormous. Why is this? Nobody knows!!" (Camille Pissarro quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Snollaerts Durand-Ruel, op.cit, p. 39). The present work Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa", was one of the two paintings that were sold. Durand-Ruel purchased the work for 600 Francs from Pissarro and sold it on the same day to a private collector, Monsieur Émile Boivin, for a 1,000 Francs. Despite their sometimes-tumultuous dealer-artist relationship, Pissarro was very dependent on Durand-Ruel.

    Whilst the painting remained in private hands, Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa" returned to the Durand-Ruel gallery three more times after its sale. Following Pissarro's death in 1903, the Durand-Ruel gallery organized a tribute to Pissarro with a one-of-a-kind retrospective of Pissarro's oeuvre. The exhibition comprised 134 oils, 41 pastels and gouaches, 2 drawing and several etchings, and was not assembled "by a dealer, nor simply by the artist's family, but by his friends and admirers" wrote Paul Durand-Ruel in a letter to Claude Monet on February 27, 1904 (Paul Durand-Ruel quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Snollaerts Durand-Ruel, op.cit, p. 55). The gallerist lent his space to the organizers but contributed 50 of his own works. Amongst contributors such as Mary Cassatt, Paul Gallimard and Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, was also Boivin who lent his Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa" for the special occasion.

    After Paul Durand-Ruel's death in 1922, his sons continued the gallery's legacy and Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa" was exhibited twice more at the Durand-Ruel gallery, in 1945 and 1956. Throughout the 20th century, Durand-Ruel remained one of the most important players within the French Impressionist art market and continued to promote Pissarro's work. Over the course of decades, they accumulated a wealth of expertise on the artist's oeuvre. During Pissarro's lifetime, Durand-Ruel acquired more than a third of the artist's total output. Even after 1903, the gallery continued to trade his work and carried on expanding their stock which resulted to another 170 works after the artist's death. By exhibiting Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa" on several occasions, it can be assumed that the Durand-Ruel family considered the work as a magnus opus of Pissarro's total body of work.

    When Tête de jeune-fille de profil dite "la Rosa" finally came for sale in 2013 it had been in the Boivin family for 117 years. Works such as these, that have remained hidden to the world for a length of time are incredibly rare for masters of the period such as Pissarro. It remains the second highest price for a portrait by the artist, only marginally bettered by the artist's portrait of Cézanne sold by the British Rail Pension Fund in 1989. Purchased by a private, London-based collector, from the Richard Green Gallery in the same year, it is undoubtedly one of Pissarro's finest portraits and comes from an impeccable line of provenance.

    Portraits in Pissarro's oeuvre are rare, especially of this quality, and very few have ever come to sale at auction. From the remaining four paintings of Pissarro's series of Rosa, two are in public collections (La ravadeuse dite ''La Rosa'', 1895, Art Institute of Chicago, and La petite bonne dite ''La Rosa'', 1896, Whitworth Art Gallery Manchester). The other two remain in private collections.
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