Camille Pissarro - A French Impressionist Paints the London Suburbs

by KathleenDuffy

Camille Pissarro was unique amongst French Impressionists who lived in London. He painted London's suburbs, leaving an artistic record of England's expanding capital city.

Camille Pissarro arrived in London at the end of 1870. He was fleeing the Franco-Prussian war and was accompanied by his partner, Julie Vellay, and their two children, Lucien, aged seven, and Jeanne Rachel aged five.

London was a massive, commercially thriving city with commuters travelling to work on the expanding railway lines from their homes in the newly built suburbs. Pissarro was fascinated by these innovations.

His work allows us a glimpse of the rapidly growing outskirts of London in the nineteenth century.

Upper Norwood in the Snow - Camille Pissarro
Upper Norwood in the Snow - Camille Pissarro

This was Pissarro's first visit to England and the family settled at Canham's Dairy, Westow Hill, Upper Norwood. Soon after his arrival, the artist painted Upper Norwood in Snow.

This beautiful painting shows a wintery sky, a snowy road receding up past typical London suburban homes, a stark tree cutting through the sky and smoke coming from one of the chimneys. The scale of the scene is emphasised by the figures, two women talking and a gentleman approaching them. You can almost feel the chill of the bright winter's day. The snow has been churned up on the road from passing people and maybe vehicles, but now, apart from these  three figures the long road is empty.

Perhaps it is too cold to be outside, or perhaps the men are all at work in the City and their wives are busy inside arranging domestic life. 

Upper Norwood, Crystal Palace
Upper Norwood, Crystal Palace

Joseph Paxton's famous Crystal Palace created for the Great Exhibition of 1851 was moved to South London in 1854. Pissarro's painting, Upper Norwood, Crystal Palace, London was unusual in that the Palace is seen from a suburban vantage point.

The wide road sweeps towards a row of of semi-detached homes and it is only the protruding tower in the distance on the right that leads our eye to the glass roof of the Crystal Palace. It is very much a part of the suburban landscape.

Pissarro gives us a unique suburban view of an architectural tour-de-force.

A Time and a Place Near Sydenham Hill
A Time and a Place Near Sydenham Hill
Pissarro in London by K Adler
Pissarro in London by K Adler

Camille Pissarro Moves to Kew, Richmond

It was an idyllic spot for him

Pissarro's second visit to London was in 1890. He was sixty and his eyes were troubling him.

He described the London parks and suburbs as 'superb' and painted Hyde Park and various views of the Thames .

Old Chelsea Bridge - Camille Pissarro
Old Chelsea Bridge - Camille Pissarro
Hyde Park - Camille Pissarro
Hyde Park - Camille Pissarro

However, it was on his third and final long-term visit in 1892 that Pissarro moved to 1 Gloucester Terrace Kew. He was absolutely enchanted by Kew Gardens describing it in letters to his friends as 'a dream'.

At this period of his life Pissarro preferred working indoors, sitting by the window. Bank Holiday, Kew shows the view from a window, surveying the holiday crowd. Kew Green (below right)  was also painted from his lodgings, showing a game of cricket, Pissarro's favourite sport.

Kew Gardens - Camille Pissarro
Kew Gardens - Camille Pissarro
Kew Green - Camille Pissarro
Kew Green - Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro Paints London Commuter Trains

Pissarro, like J M W Turner, loved trains.  Railway enthusiasts will revel in his The Train, Bedford Park. It shows a 'Puffing Jinney' steam train approaching the Bath Road signals.

But whereas Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed is a dynamic interpretation of the new public transport, Pissarro's train is a leisurely chug through nineteenth century suburban London.

The Train, Bedford Park
The Train, Bedford Park
Rain, Steam, Speed - J M W Turner
Rain, Steam, Speed - J M W Turner
Lordship Lane Railway Station - Camille Pissarro
Lordship Lane Railway Station - Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro - The Last London Years

 During his London visits Pissarro visited galleries and museums with Monet (also in exile from France), married his partner, mentored and cared for his children, displayed his work at the Durand-Ruel galleries, and was rejected by the Royal Academy.

He returned to France  in 1892,  returning briefly in 1897 when his son, Lucien, who had made his home in London, suffered a severe heart attack.

View Across Stamford Brook Common - Camille Pissarro
View Across Stamford Brook Common - C...

He nursed Lucien, and his visit enabled Pissarro to visit his other two sons,  George and Felix.   During this last visit he painted View Across Stamford Brook Common (above) showing a typical patch of London suburban life.

Sadly, on returning to France that same year, Pissarro received  the news that his son, Felix, had died from tuberculosis.

So  Pissarro's  later London years were tinged with grief.  Yet he regretted being unable to return to England.  Pissarro and his wife had bought a house in Eragny, France  and the financial straits of upkeep kept him away from England.

Near Sydenham Hill, London - Camille Pissarro
Near Sydenham Hill, London - Camille Pissarro

But fortunately for us, on his frequent long-term visits to London Pissarro painted a social record of a unique period of London's growth, giving life and vibrancy to a subject often described as mundane and uninspiring.

One of his most admired paintings, Upper Norwood in the Snow, can be seen at The National Gallery, London.



  • Pissarro in London by Kathleen Adler (National Gallery Company, 2003)

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Updated: 06/04/2013, KathleenDuffy
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KathleenDuffy on 06/03/2013

Hello Mike - Thank you so much for those welcome comments and I am really pleased that you enjoyed my article. I do love Pissarro and his 'Upper Norwood in the Snow' is one of my favourite paintings. His output was incredible. Thanks for your post! :)

MikeRobbers on 06/03/2013

Excellent article and presentation of Pissaro's London years. The artwork in your article is also stunning!

KathleenDuffy on 06/03/2013

Hello there Mira! Lovely to hear from you. Yes, London is wonderful - I love it and although we have our problems, it's basically a very tolerant and integrated city. I love the River Thames in particular as it is so changeable and majestic! Thanks for your comment Mira.

Mira on 06/03/2013

I love your articles, Kathleen! I like how you put the paintings in context :). Would love to live in London and have access to all the exhibits. I visited in 2011 and absolutely loved it, not just the museums but also various neighborhoods we strolled through, and the general feel of the city. What a great place!

KathleenDuffy on 05/24/2013

Thanks CherylsArt! So glad to introduce you to a new artist! :)

CherylsArt on 05/23/2013

I hadn't heard of Passarro before. Nice paintings.

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