Oil on canvas: 18.3(h) x 14.8(w) in /
46.4(h) x 37.5(w) cm
Signed and dated 1883
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Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas 1830 – 1903 Paris
Signed and dated lower right: C. Pissarro / 1883
Oil on canvas: 18¼ x 15 in / 46.3 x 38.1 cm
Frame size: 26 ½ x 23 in / 67.3 x 58.4 cm
In a period, carved and gilded Louis XIV frame
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris, acquired from the artist, 6th September 1883;
Sam Salz, Inc., New York , probably acquired from the above circa 1950
Mr and Mrs Philip Levin, New York, acquired from the above, 2nd December 1968;
The Collection of Janice Levin, a gift from the above in 2001
Richard Green, London, 2006;
private collection, USA
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Camille Pissarro – Tableaux, aquarelles, pastels, gouaches, March 1894, no.22
London, Grafton Galleries, Pictures by Boudin, Manet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, Sisley, January-February 1905, no.191
Paris, Salle de la Renaissance, Oeuvres des XIXe et XXe Siècles provenant de collections particulières, January 1929, no.132
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley, June-July 1955, no.14
Fort Lauderdale, Museum of Art, Camille Pissarro and His Descendants, January-April 2000, p.65, no.35, illus. in colour
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, A Very Private Collection: Janice H Levin’s Impressionist Pictures, November 2002-February 2003, p.28, no.6, illus. in colour
The Birmingham Museum of Art and elsewhere, An Impressionist Eye: Painting and Sculpture from the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, February 2004-January 2005
London, Richard Green, Visions of Impressionism, 2007, no.4, illus. in colour and with colour detail
LR Pissarro and L Venturi, Camille Pissarro: Son art – son oeuvre, Paris 1939, vol. I, p.169, no.618; vol. II, pl. 618
J Pissarro, Camille Pissarro, New York, 1993, p.173, fig. 189
J Pissarro and C Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro, Catalogue critique des peintures, Paris 2005, vol. II, p.472, no.708, illus. in colour
Painted in 1883, Femme bêchant reflects a turning point in Pissarro’s career. From 1880 onwards he had shown an increased interest in figure subjects, eschewing his previous preoccupation with landscapes. This period saw not only a change in choice of subject but also a transformation of his technique which evolved from the free, painterly brushstrokes of the Impressionists towards uniformly small, evenly distributed and carefully controlled touches of paint. Picasso began to use more preparatory drawing and to work more in the studio, as opposed to en plein air. He also employed a wide variety of media, adding a fluency with watercolours, gouaches and prints to his skill with oil painting.
In 1883 Pissarro was living in Pontoise in Normandy, before his move to his final home at Eragny the following year. Pontoise was an area of smallholdings specialising in growing vegetables and fruit. In this painting, a blue-aproned peasant woman, wearing a cheerful, check headscarf, leans on a spade as she prepares the ground for planting. Characteristically of Pissarro’s peasants, she sets to work with vigour, absorbed in her task and embowered in a landscape of warm brown earth, rich grassland and crops. Staccato strokes of paint, woven from myriad colours, describe the moving figure of the woman and the contours of the land as it rises up towards a strip of blue horizon.
As an Anarchist, Pissarro believed in the dignity of labour and the hope that mankind could be persuaded fairly to share the fruits of the earth, turning aside from industrialisation and capitalism. He married Julie Velay, a woman of peasant stock who was to become a popular figure in Eragny, joining in the harvests and other communal agricultural tasks. Pissarro’s exploration of figure subjects at this period was inspired by an interest in the figure drawings of Edgar Degas and the peasant paintings of Jean-François Millet, but he never sees countryfolk as victims of hard, unrelenting toil. As Richard Shone comments, ‘The quotidian intimacy of his depictions of peasant life is balanced by a metaphorical charge that is subtly poetic rather than sentimental or dogmatic. He suggests the binding regime of the yearly rural cycle without idealising his figures or demeaning them. Hard work is present but, so, too, are moments of rest, of a neighbourly chat among women in the fields who manage yet to keep a watchful eye on a venturesome child or on a cow that might be straying too far from sight’.
The young woman in Femme bêchant reappears in several guises in the 1880s and early 1890s, including Paysanne bêchant, 1882 (private collection, USA), where she is digging in a similar pose. She also appears in Two young peasant women, 1892 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), wearing a similar headscarf and chatting with a companion in a break from work. Recording his peasants at work and rest, exploring related motifs over several years, Pissarro traces the rhythms of peasant life with acute observation and deep affection.
Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas 1830 – 1903 Paris
Camille Pissarro was perhaps the greatest propagandist and the most constant member of the Impressionists and the only one to participate in all eight of their exhibitions. Born in 1830 in the Danish colony of Saint Thomas in the West Indies, of Sephardic Jewish parentage, he went to school in Paris and then worked in his father’s business for five years. Ill-suited to being a merchant, Pissarro decided to become a painter, studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and the informal Académie Suisse. He was considerably influenced and encouraged by Corot and to a lesser extent by Courbet.
During the 1860s Pissarro exhibited at the official Salons and in 1863 at the Salon des Refusés. He increasingly associated himself with the Impressionists, especially Monet and Renoir, and with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 fled to London, where Durand-Ruel became his principal patron and dealer.
After the war, Pissarro returned to France and settled at Pontoise, spending much time with Cézanne, whom he directed towards Impressionism. In 1884 he moved to Eragny. During the 1890s the meadows at Eragny-sur-Epte, looking across to the village of Bazincourt, became one of Pissarro’s principal subjects, painted at different times of the day and year.
In 1885 Pissarro came into contact with Seurat and Signac and for a brief period experimented with Neo-Impressionism. The rigidity of this technique, however, proved too restrictive and he returned to the freedom and spontaneity of Impressionism. From 1893 Pissarro embarked upon a series of Parisian themes, such as the Gare St Lazare and the Grands Boulevards. He continued to spend the summers at Eragny, where he painted the landscape in his most poetic Post-Impressionist idiom. Pissarro died in Paris in 1903.
 Richard Shone, The Janice H Levin Collection of French Art, New York 2002, p.31.
 Pissarro and Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., vol. II, p.454, no.678, illus. in colour.
 Pissarro and Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, ibid., vol. III, p.598, no.912, illus. in colour.
 Today part of the US Virgin Islands.