'PARBLEU' PISSARRO AND T H E VISION

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'PARBLEU' : PISSARRO AND THE
POLITICAL COLOUR O F AN ORIGINAL
VISION
PAUL SMITH
PISSARRO AND IMPRESSIONIST VISION
To judge from their own accounts, and from their later work, both Monet and
Cezanne eventually succeeded in seeing their motifs only as blocks of colour or
coloured 'taches', as if they were free from knowledge of what they looked at, like
men who had just gained their sight.' As Charles Stuckey points out, it was
Ruskin's injunction to see with an 'innocence of the eye . . . as a blind man would
see . . . as if suddenly gifted with sight' that guided Monet to see 'flat stains of
colour' and 'patches of colour'; and he also suggests that Taine's ideas on the retina1
data of pre-conceptual visual experience might have been equally influential on
the Impressionists at large.' From Richard Shiffs work, i t is clear that this
characteristically Impressionist vision was motivated by a search for na'ive
' impressions', and for personal 'sensations' supposedly corresponding to a 'double
origin' where nature and the self met.? By these accounts, therefore, Impressionist
vision was meant to result from an intentionality free of interest in a reified world,
and instead to be expressive of a more primal and 'original' experience of reality.
Putting aside the vexed question of whether seeing in this way is actually possible
for a normal adult, the Impressionists' search for sensations untouched by culture
or language remains at least doubly paradoxical. In the first place, their frequent
statements on the matter suggest the Impressionists adhered almost religiously to
the principle that sensations were the basis of a way of painting free from rules.
Moreover, while sensations were meant to be pre-conceptual experiences, it is plain
that both Monet and Ctzanne had quite specific concepts about them and the vision
corresponding to them, and that these concepts were themselves contingent upon
particular nineteenth-century beliefs such as Positivism and i n d i ~ i d u a l i s m . ~
Moreover, to follow Meyer Schapiro, the list of contingencies determining
Impressionist perception would also include their desire to find an alternative to
the perception characteristic of a society in the thrall of the 'advance of monopoly
capitalism'
In effect, then, and despite the rhetoric of their own statements, it is precisely
because the Impressionists' vision was contingent upon the rationality of a particular
'
.'
Art History
Vol. 15 No. 2 June 1992
ISSN 0141-6790
PISSARKO A N D 7'Hk POI,I'I'IC41, C O L O U R O F AT\; OKIC;INAId VISION
culture, and subject to historically specific causes, that it was meaningful. In other
words, it was a function of the way in which it was infiitrated by and expressive
of its various social determinations, both consciously and unconsciously, that the
way of seeing recorded in an Impressionist painting had specific moral and political
meanings.
Like his more illustrious colleagues, Pissarro asserted that he too saw in 'taches',
and painted his own 'impressions' and ' s e n s a t i o n s ' . ~ o w e v e r ,Pissarro was more
reasonable and explicit about the factors affecting his perception, and less given
to romantic claims about it, than his fellows. Indeed, by the 1880s, this artist whom Renoir recalled as the 'theoricicn' of Impressionist research' - made
many staternents to the effect that hc intended the scientific knowledge and political
bcliefs bound up with his vision to be recognizable as such in his paintings.
These connections, and the meaning they gave to Pissarro's vision, are the
sub.ject of the majority of what follows. T h e remainder is concerned with Pissarro's
unusual sensitivity to blue, what some called his 'daltonisme', and the emergence
of this aspect of his vision into public sense. In particular, I wish to explain how
it was that Pissarro's preference for blue was far from devoid of meaning, even
though the painter himself failed to explain this preference, or even recognize it.
T h e solution I will suggest to this conundrum is that this aspect of his vision was
irreducible to existing concepts and rules of seeing, and that it was this that
guarantced its potential to carry a n original sense beyond the semantics of the
language available to him.
PISSARRO'S P E R C E P T I O N AND SCIENCE
O n a few occasions, Pissarro seemed no less naive than his colleagues about
perception. For example, in a letter to Lucien of September 1892, he advised his
son to concentrate on rendering 'sensations libres de toute autrc chose que ta propre
sensation'.' But it is difficult to believe this statement was intended as literal
advice, because the majority of Pissarro's staternents show quite unequivocally
that his vision was inf'ormed by scientific concepts, and that he knew this. For
cxample, in a letter to Durand-Rue1 of November 1886, he mentioned his familiarity
with the work of Chevreul and Ogclen Rood on colour (probably Chevreul's De
la loi du contraste simulta~lddes couleurs of 1839 and Rood's The'urie [email protected] des couleurs
of 1881)." And in a letter of February 1887 to Lucien, he affirmed his debt to
science in a letter concerning a difference of opinion with a patron about its
importance to the painter. Indignantly, he wrote:
de Bellio . . . m e dit qu'il ne croit pas que les recherches physiques sur la
couleur et la lumicre puissent servir 2 l'artiste, pas plus que l'anatomie
ou les lois de l'optique . . . ; parbleu; si je ne savais pas comment les
couleurs se comportent depuis les dkcouvertes de Chevreul et autres
savants, nous ne pourrions poursuivre nos etudes sur la lumi?re avcc
autant d'assurance. Je ne ferais pas une difference entre la couleur locale
et la lumi?re, si la science ne nous w a i t mis en 6veil. Et les
compl6mentaires et les contrastes, etc."'
PJSSAKKO ANT) T H E I'OLITICAL (:OLOUK O F .\N CIKIGINAI. VISION
Pissarro's paintings of the late 1870s and early 1880s do show hc recorded
perceptions of colour which owe a debt to the work of' Rood and Chevreul, just
as he described. In works likc L a C6te des boeufs, Pontoise of 1877 (plate 43) and
Jeune Puysanne au chapeau of 1881 (plate 44), Pissarro separately recorded the local
colour of objects and the modifications imposed on it by the various components
of the light - illumination, shadow and reflections" - and hc also registered
perceptions of contrast effects in his insistent use of pairs of c o m p l e m e n t a r i c ~ . ' ~
Ftndon's criticism of 1886 and 1887 describes the presence of precisely these
perceived effects in Seurat's paintings,l%ut only because Pissarro supplied him
with a n analysis of the components of Neo-Impressionist colour (as is recorded
in three letters of September 188614 and two letters of April and summer 1887)."
The fact that FCnCon's Les Zmpressionnistes en 1886 more-or-less accurately represents
Pissarro's ideas (and not Seurat's as is often s u p p o s c c l ) ' ~ sfurther revealed by the
letter of November 1886 to Durancl-Ruel," in which Pissarro told his dealer to
read F t n t o n ' s pamphlet for a n amplification of his own scientific theories."
Science did not just enable Pissarro's perception of colours in nature, it also
affccted his way of rendering what he saw. Put simply, Pissarro's manner of
composing a surf'ace was scientific because it was designed to take account of' how
effects like simultaneous contrast and optical mixture could affect the way colours
looked. Following Chevreul, paintings such as L a Cite des boeufs (plate 43) do not
map the colours Pissarro saw directly onto the canvas, but instead modulate patches
of colour on the surface so as to take account of how their hues and tones (and
position in depth and apparent size) are affected by adjacent colours, and also by
more distant colours.'" Following Rood, other paintings, such as Jeune Paysanne
au chapeau (plate 44), use small touches of (spectral) colour which form resultants
at a distance due to the effect of optical mixture."' In practice, both effects come
into play in deciding the look of a surface, and it is somewhat schematic to separate
them out," even if Pissarro tended to adopt a n explanation based on the notion
of optical mixture in the later 1880s.'~
S C I E N C E A N D A N A R C H I S M I N PISSARRO'S VISION
Science plainly gave Pissarro his concepts of what colour was, and his models of
how it behaved, but this does not explain zrihy Pissarro read science to help him
see, or what he hoped to achieve by using it to hone his colour perception. Even
a cursory look at the history of different cultures' colour terms shows that people
normally invent or adopt particular colour concepts because they can be usrd either to help them make useful discriminations between differently coloured things
or effects in daily life, or to discriminate colours precisely for purposes of
communication." Put crudely: seeing in a particular way, or 'seeing-as', is
normally meaningful because it makes sense within a specific social practice.'4 I n
an activity like painting, seeing can be imaginative, but it gains meaning because
it makes sense within the form of life imagined in the painting.
Such a picture of perception makes it imperative to discover just what Pissarro
thought science allowed him to imagine (or ultimately, achieve) in enabling him
to see as he did." O n its own though, this is a misleading question, because it
PIXSAKKO A N D T H E POI.ITICAL C O L O U R O F AN O K I G I N A I . \ ISION
is incomplete. Even were we to provide an answer to it, this would still not explain
why Pissarro painted what science helped him see.2hHowever, one explanation of
why Pissarro both saw as he did and painted what he saw, is that, for him, to do
so was to refute the way of seeing encoded in dominant conventions of painting
at the time. And Pissarro does suggest several times, in his letters of the early 1880s,
that he sought freedom from the lnonolithic tonalism of Salon art, and the freedom
to see and paint his own sensations of colour in all their variety. In letters of 1883,
Pissarro went so far as to oppose his own tastes for colour and variety against
'bourgeois' taste. For example, in February he described his own art as 'l'oiseau
rare au plumage resplendissant de toutes les belles couleurs de l'arc en ciel', and
in November identified the 'boueuse' technique of Adolphe von Menzel's Das
Ballsouper (plate 45) of 1878 as 'bourgeois' . 2 7
What these letters suggest is that Pissarro regarded science as a means of
libcrating his sensations from the dull, tonal and 'bourgeois' way of seeing promoted
by Salon and Academic art (and not as an end in it~elf).~'They also il~lply
strongly that there was a political dimension to Pissarro's scientifically-informed
chromatic vision: that its very freedom from Salon conventions and its diversity
of sensation exemplified the anarchism he had come to cherish in the late 1870s
and early 1880s."' In this vein, Pissarro even told Lucien in a letter of April 1891:
'Je crois fermement que nos idtes imprtgntes de philosophie anarchique se
dtteignent sur nos oeuvres . . . .'"" And it is difficult to believe he chose his words
without ~ e g a r dfbr the image they conjured.
Pissarro's way of seeing was intended to be anarchist for other reasons as well.
For instance, his insistence on recording light and colour as such seems to have
been intended as a refusal of the traditional use of light in Salon art only to reveal
the texture and physicality of objects, or other objects of desire like the female body.
At least, in the letter concerning Menzel, Pissarro identified the 'bourgeoisisme'
of the German painter's work with its 'lourdeur',"' suggesting its heavy handling
gave objects (and women) a tactile appeal which satisfied a spectator's possessive
fantasies. In contrast, the quite different emphasis in Pissarro's own paintings on
immaterial effects of light and colour seems designed to allow the spectator a n
imaginative experience of freedom from such acquisitive and 'bourgeois' attitudes.
T h e logic which united the meanings of Pissarro's use of colour was therefore
something like this: 'bourgeois' attitudes to things dictate the use of a dull vehicle
which can bring out their materiality, and which promotcs a n aspect-blindness
to colour and light. A disinterested vision emphasizes colour and light at the expense
of things, and signifies freedom from 'bourgeois' forms of (real or fantasy) life.
All in all, therefore, science allowed Pissarro a certain imaginative freedom
from 'bourgeois' forms of life, something akin to the freedom which was the goal
o f the anarchism formulated by Proudhon. Pissarro avidly read Proudhon in the
late 1870s and early 1880s," a n d firmly espoused his theory of selfdetermination." It is hardly a surprise, therefore, to find him explicitly
illustrating the putative benefits of Proudhon's theory in a number of paintings
of the late 1870s and early to mid 1880s in which peasants are represented
emblematically: emancipated from the drudgery or alienation of labour, and free
to enjoy leisure and contemplation at will." Among these are Jeune P a y s a n e au
chapeau (plate 44), L e Fond de I'Hermitage, Pontoise of 1879 (plate 46), L a BergZre of
I'ISSARKO A N D T H E I'OLlrl'lC:AL C O L O U R O F AN 0KIC;LNAL VISION
1881 (plate 47), Etude defigure en plein air, fffet de soleil of 1881 (plate 48), Le Repos,
paysanne couche'e dun5 l'herbe, Pontoise of 1882 (plate 49) and Paysnnne assise of 1885
(plate 50). Crucially, though, these paintings about the freedom which anarchism
and sciencr could allow are themselves cast in the very technique which Pissarro
considered anarchist because it was the vehicle of a perception liberated by science.
Moreover, the spectator sees the painting in the way that the figures represented
\
in the painting see their world. In other words, the spectator is prompted to take
on in imagination the disinterested, contemplative vision of the anarchist form of
life Pissarro conjures in his paintings.
PISSARRO'S C O M M U N I T Y O F BELIEF
For all the consistency and coherence of Pissarro's ideas, it is nonetheless hard
to see how his paintings could have been meaningful in the way he intended, unless
they exemplified his own beliefs for somebody apart from himself. Indeed, unless
his works had effects upon the social practices of real individuals, it is difficult to
see how Pissarro's paintings could have meant, or done, anything at all.
Happily, the evidence shows that the synecdoche between Pissarro's anarchist
faith and his scientific, colourist aesthetic was anything but private to him. Even
the reclusive and conservative Ctzanne knew there was a connection between
Pissarro's learning from science and his political beliefs. At least, this seems to
be what Cezanne meant by a peculiar sentence in a letter which he wrote to Emile
Bernard in 1905, which reads: 'l'ttude modifie notre vision 21 un tel point que
l'humble et colossal Pissarro se trouve justifit pour ses theories anarchistes.'""
Of course, it does not mean Ctzanne shared Pissarro's beliefs just because he
understood them. For the conservatives among the Impressionists, painting their
own sensations of colour meant affirming a different kind of political stance, as the
individualism it exemplified was just as much a tenet of bourgeois ideology as of
anarchism. Probably because he knew this, Pissarro made fun of how his colleagues
saw like him and used the same techniques as he did, and even parodied his own
association between colour and anarchism. For example, in the letter of April 1891
mentioned above, he wrote to his son in jest, declaring the reactionary Degas to
be 'si anarchiste! En art bien entendu, et sans le savoir!'"'
Given these conflicting views, i t is no surprise that the community in which
Pissarro's work actually did find favour in the 1880s was not that of his fellow
Impressionists. Instead, it did so with a small group within the literary and artistic
salon of the critic and former communard, Robert Caze.'" This ce'nacle was in its
heyday only for a short time between the winter of 1885 and the spring of 1 8 8 6 , ~ ~
but was no less important because of it; for (besides Pissarro himself) it included
the novelist and critic Huysmans, Pissarro's longstanding friend Paul Alexis,
pseudonymously the art critic 'Trublot' of the radical newspaper L e Cri du peuple,""
the incipient Neo-Impressionist painter Signac, and a young Symbolist writer, Paul
Adam ."
Many of the aesthetic beliefs of this community emerge in the novel Soi, which
Adam published in May 1886 (with a dedication to Alexis). This work is especially
interesting because it featured a character called 'Vibrac' - a radical Impressionist
P I S S A K R O A N 0 THE I'0l217'ICAI, C O I D U R OF AN 0RIC;INAI. V I S I O N
with a taste for vibrant colour, and a long grey beard - who was only a thinly
veiled composite of Signac and Pissarro himself. And so, Vibrac's views on art
not only represent Pissarro's in all likelihood; but, arguably, they also reveal the
extent to which Pissarro's beliefs were shared by his colleagues (or at least the extent
to which they did not conflict with Adam's more solipsistic aesthetic)." At all
events, Vibrac expresses substantially the same arguments about the connections
between colour vision and anarchism that Pissarro himself makes in his letters.
Vibrac's beliefs are most clearly elaborated in a long dialogue early in Soi with
the character Marthe Grellou - a rich woman whose conservative tastes and
reactionary values cause Vibrac to spell out the meanings of what he sees and paints.
The conversation in question begins with Marthe's response to a snow scene Vibrac
is painting. This is probably modelled on one of Pissarro's paintings of the 1870s
such as L a Sente des pouilleux, effet de n ~ i g eof 1874 (plate 51). Vibrac's painting is
significant because it marks his conversion to Impressionism, and we are told:
2 cette Epoque, il parut changer sa manikre. Son pinceau s'appuyait en
multiples et kpaisses maculatures, et portait des ombres mauves ou bleues.
11 brossait des arbres lie de vin, crGment.
Ainsi composa-t-il u n cffet de neige oh se montraient 2 peine deux
lignes blanches perdues dans des encroGtements roses, mauves, violets et
gris.4'
Horrified by Vibrac's frank colour, Marthe blurts out: 'Mais ce n'est plus vous
Qu'avez-vous fait l&?' But Vibrac, the typical Impressionist, merely replies:
'Mettez-vous plus loin . . . . ' Not to be put off, Marthe turns to Vibrac with the
accusation: 'Oh! vous exagerez joliment. Et puis, d'abord, la neige est blanche.'
But again Vibrac counters her, this time with the response:
. ..
Jamais de la vie. Je la vois rose, je la vois mauve dans les ombres, et il y
a de l'ombre partout. Oui, c'est u n peu blanc, 12-haut; eh bien, je I'ai
fait. 4"
Behind the rhetoric of this dialogue, Adam suggests, like Pissarro, that bourgeois
art promotes a dull, tonal and hence repressed kind of vision. Because Marthe
is used to seeing pictures such as Goeneutte's L e Boulevard de Clichy par un ternps
de n e k r of the Salon of 1876 (plate 52) in which snow is white, she cannot see it
in its full diversity of colour. I n other words, Marthe's sensations of colour suffer
privation because of what Salon art tells her about the way reality looks.
T h e same dialogue continues so as to allow Vibrac to express another of
Pissarro's opinions. In response to Vibrac's observation of colour for itself, Marthe
insists that good painting should create 'relief' - or the feeling of three
dimensionality - by using glazing. Predictably, Vibrac turns on Marthe with the
rejoinder: 'Tenez, vous parlez comme les bonzes des Beaux-Arts.lt4 Vibrac then
goes on to attack another Academic device: the use of 'fonds' - or backcloths
- to give a figure in a portrait salience. H e directs his invective against CarolusDuran's use of the technique in particular, which suggests Adam modelled the
passage on Huysmans's parody of Carolus-Duran's contrived use of 'fonds' in
his L 'Art modern? of 1883.4' Unsurprisingly, Marthe disputes Vibrac's opinion and
defends the 'effet' which the technique creates. But this only causes Vibrac to turn
52 Norhrrr Goent-utte. LP Rouleonrd de C1ich.y par u n /nnps dr nrt'pr, Salon of 1876. Tare
Gallery, 1,ondon
232
P I S S A K K O A N D -1 H l i P O L I TIC:AI, ( . O I , O U K 0 1 A N 0RIC;INAI. \'ISION
on her with the rejoinder:
Ah! I'effet, l'effet! L'effet c'est bon pour les bourgeois, pour la vente,
pour l'enseigne. C a tire 170eil,n'est-ce pas, c'est la carotte Ccarlate B la
porte du marchand de tabac!+"
The point of these latter exchanges is clear enough. Through Vibrac, Adam
is arguing that Marthe's 'bourgeois' vision results from Academic painting, where
what counts is the artist's ability to see and render the way light reveals the
physicality of things or wornen. And he also makes it plain that such art i r 'bourgeois'
because it appeals to the spectator's avarice and cupidity. For Adam, this appeal
is anathema, both aesthetically and politically, as the violence of Vibrac's language
makes plain. Implicitly, and like Pissarro, his delight in colour and light is founded
in another kind of pleasure: the disinterested contemplation of intangibles. And
like Pissarro, Adam seems to think that seeing such effects is to see in a way
antipathetic to a bourgeois way of seeing, and the morality it carries.
Elsewhere in Soi the various characters articulate different standards of taste
based on their individual moralities and political beliefs. Predictably, Marthe
admires Cabanel. Early in the novel, shc even imagines herself and her cousin,
Henriette, as figures in an exotic painting entitled Inthieur. And she muses about
it, perhaps with Cabanel's PhPdre of the Salon of 1880 (plate 53) in (Adam's) mind:
Seul le pinceau de Cabanel [serait] assez dtlicat pour rendre les nuances
ambrtes du cachemire tendu sur les meubles bas et les broderies hindoues
qui traversaient les sicgcs par larges bandes. En fond s'ttalerait le vieil or
de la tapisserie oh, de place en place, une simple fleur noire se piquait.
Au premier plan, leur groupe, deux teintes tranchkes: dans l'une toute la
gamme gradute des bruns, dans l'autre une synchromie de blanc et de
vert tendre."
However, not long afterwards, Adam has Marthe overhear her radical husband,
Luc Polskoff, cast a Huysmansesque insult at one of her favourite paintings,
Cabanel's Venus of the Salon of 1 8 6 3 . ~T ~o Marthe's dismay, he blurts out:
'Cabanel, de la cr2me d6layi.e dans du sirop de groseilles, le tout sur un fond
d ' a n g t l i q ~ e . ' ~Luc's
"
unintentionally cruel parody of his wife's chocolate-box
tastes exposes how Marthe's sense of self is tied up with what she has learnt from
Salon and Academic art. In condemning
- Cabanel, therefore, Adam implicitly
condemns Marthe's misrecognition of her femininity in paintings which suggest
personal fulfilment is to be found in wealth or sexual attractiveness. Like Pissarro,
Adam seems to suggest through Luc that a good painting does not lead the spectator
into such fantasies, but insists instead upon the spectator finding pleasure in
exercising more aesthetic skills. In other words, for Adam, as for Pissarro, a good
painting was one which affirmed the values of a form of life free from materialistic
or acquisitive concerns.""
Adam's mentor, Paul Alexis, expressed similar tastes and beliefs about the
virtues of Impressionism in the column, 'A minuit', which he wrote almost daily
in the 1880s. The clearest case of his views coinciding with Pissarro's and Adam's
comes in an article entitled 'Mon Vernissage', which he published in L e Cri du
peuple on 2 May 1886. Here, Alexis, like his friends, was at pains to stress how
PISSARRO AND 'I'HE POLITICAL C O L O U R O F AN ORIGINAL VISION
5
Alcsi~nclr(.Cahancl, I'htdrr.. Salon of 1880. Musk= Fabre, M(~nrpellier
the quality of a work was bound u p with the artist's disinterested delight in effects
of light and colour. Accordingly, he mentioned how he had a landscape by Signac
in his home, but instead of dwelling on the details of what it represented, he simply
described it as 'une page toute vibrante d ' soleil, avec une Seine toute bleue, toute
chaude: de Paul Signac, le jeune et d6jB magistral impressionniste.'" More lightheartedly, he also suggested that his collection might soon contain: 'un Pissarro
qu' j'ai jamais d7mandC . . . mais qui, un d ' ces quatres matins, j' 1' parierais,
m'arrivera tout d' m2me.'52
Alexis succeeded in giving a political edge to these remarks because they
appeared in a review of his own collection, which he had written, he told the reader,
because he had not been sent a ticket for the Salon vernissage. But to make sure
his reader would realize the political nature of his opinions, Alexis insisted that
he had missed nothing in missing the occasion; rather, he declared he had spent
an enjoyable afternoon looking at his own pictures: 'et sans m' mouiller, et sans
me buter B c' Tout-Paris brillamment imbecile des premieres . . . .'53
DALTONISM AND ANARCHISM
Plainly, Pissarro, Alexis and Adam all saw Impressionist colour vision as anarchist.
However, as is implied by Alexis's pointed emphasis on Signac's 'Seine toute bleue',
and by Adam's references to Vibrac's use of 'bleu' and 'violet', it was the blueness
PISSAKKCI A N D THb: I'OI,I I'ICAI. C:OI.OUK O F A N O R I G I N A I , V I S I O N
of Impressionist vision that pre-eminently signified its political meaning among
the Caze group.
'The origin of this peculiar synecdoche probably lay in I-Iuysmans's L 'Art moderne
of 1883, which was undoubtedly well known to Pissarro and his colleague^."^ In
this work, in an essay on the Impressionists' exhibition of 1880, Huysmans had
ritjbed the Impressionists for their excessive sensitivity to blue, and even suggested
that they suffered from 'daltonisme' - a rare retina1 disorder."" Huysmans also
accused Caillebottc of having contracted 'indigomanie', and Pissarro of having
fallen prey to 'la manie de bleu'.""he
reason why the Caze group might have
picked on the Impressionists' preference fbr blue as a sign for their (putative) political
radicalism is contained in the logical structure of Huysmans's text. Brutally
summarized, L'Art moderne elaborated a consistent opposition between 'faux',
'bourgeois' Salon art and Impressionism, which, it argued, exhibited 'v6ritC' of
vision and technique." Given, therefbre, that Impressionism was seen as
antipathetic to Salon art and bourgeois values, and that a veridical vision prone
to seeing blue was its distinguishing feature, 'daltonisme' could stand metonymically
for its value as a vehicle of opposition to bourgeois
At least one other critic madc the same connection. In his book, Pour le beau
of 1893, the reactionary Alphonse German wrote: 'l'ambiance ne souf'f'rc du
daltonisme sensitif par cause originelle, mais parce qu'elle subit l'influence malcment
saturnienne du dCmocratisme.'"!'
A blue picture undoubtedly signified populist and even socialist beliefs for the
additional reason that blue was the workers' colour, insofar as it was the predominant
colour of the female peasant's costume and the colour of the male peasant's and
the city labourer's blouse. Many of Pissarro's paintings make a feature of such
costumes, for example, L a C6te des boeufs, Jeune Paysanne a11 chapeau, L a Bergire, Etude
dehyure en plein air, Le Repos and Paysanne a.rsise (plates 43, 44, 47, 48, 49 and 50).
A worker in a blue blouse also features at the extreme left of Signac's L a Necge,
boulevard de Clichy by 1886 (plate 54). Moreover, by the 1880s, when some urban
workers had begun to adopt a variant of bourgeois black and white - as can be
seen in the foreground of Seurat's Une Bazynade a Asniires of 1883-4 - wearing
such coloured costume had assumed a pointed and even aggressively working-class
significance
In any case, Adam spells out both connections between the blueness of
Impressionist painting and its political meanings in an episode at the end of Soi
which takes place at an imaginary Impressionist exhibition. (The show includes
works by Pissarro and a painting by Signac of 'une rner bleue'.)'" At this event,
Vibrac confronts Marthe's nephew Karl, a decadent, morphinornaniac snob. who
objects to the large number of working-class people in Montmartre because they
spoil an otherwise beautiful view. Vibrac argues violently against Karl, and
admonishes him:
."'
Le peuple, c'est la couleur. C'est la seule classe de la soci6tC oh il y avait
tant de bleu et de blanc. Les blouses des travailleurs trks pauvres c'est un
bleu mort, use, pass6 avec d'extraordinaires omhres verditres. O n
voudrait ces teintes-18, en peluche, pour faire des portikres.G'
1 0
make sure his reader realizes there is something significant about
I'ISSARRO AND T H E POLI7TICAIdCO1,OUR O F AN ORIGINAT, VISION
Impressionist blueness, Adam continues to plug it throughout the remainder of
the episode. Indeed, Adam singles out for lengthy description a predominantly
blue view of the Seine by Vibrac, which is actually a real painting by DuboisPillet (himself a member of the Caze salon): La Seine d Bercy, of 1885 (plate 55).
In this work, Adam tells us 'La saisissante vie d'un paysage parisien, s'enfon~ait
dans la toile A travers une atmosph?re bleue et grise de m a t i r ~ . ' ~
H'e also tells us
that the parts of the painting 's'unifiaient dans une grande sensation bleue, un
glacis bleustre d ' a i ~ - ' .And
~ ~ just for good measure, Adam adds, in an
uncomfortably neologistic style: 'le la de cette synchromie sonnait dans la rCclame
gros bleue du Petit Journal, couvrant toute la coupe d'une maison isolCe sur la
berge. '"
Vibrac's pointed and political preference for seeing blue undoubtedly stemmed
from the fact that Pissarro had done several 'daltonist' pictures in the late 1870s
and early 1880s which not only show (resting) peasants in blue costurne, but are
also paintings of scenes largely or entirely in (blue) shadow. Examples of such works
are Jeune Paysanne au chapeau, Le Fond de /'Hermitage, La Bergbre and Etude de jgure
en plezn air (plates 41, 46, 47 and 48). And so, these overall blue pictures expressed
anarchist sentiments, or contempt for bourgeois materialism, in their iconography;
but they also did so in a more purely visual - or psychological - manner, as
a blue cast to a painting defies a spectator's ability to read texture or salience in
it, and particularly the skills of a spectator versed in Academic conventions."" In
addition, the overall blueness of Pissarro's paintings reinforced the compositionally
unhierarchical effect which their colourist patchiness already gave them. And so,
by denying what Baudelaire had called 'hitrachie et subordination', Pissarro's
blueness can be seen to have instituted what the critic saw as a kind of pictorial
'anar~hie'.~'
Significantly, however, while Pissarro did rationalize about the connection
between his preference for colour in general and his anarchism, he never rationalized
about the connection between his specific sensitivity to blue shadows and his political
beliefs. Instead, to judge from two letters of May 1883 to his son, Pissarro was
annoyed and even stung by Huysmans's accusation that he suffered from
' d a l t ~ n i s m e ' . "And
~ so, it appears that Pissarro had a vague sense of why he saw
blue (inasmuch as he preferred it), but that it was not until Adarn and Alexis had
given his daltonism precise meanings, afier the fact, that it acquired any precise or
public significance. Indeed, the peculiarity of the quirky, argotic and ironic prose
in which its meanings were elaborated itself testifies to the struggle Adarn and Alexis
had in making out, and making plain, the potential sense of Pissarro's idiosyncratic
vision.
A N A R C H I S T IMPRESSIONISM AND ANARCHIST LIFE
It might be said that Pissarro and his friends achieved little in writing about
Impressionist vision the way they did, beyond indulging themselves and their
audience in useless aestheticizing. But this is not the case: their public appreciation
and enjoyment of Impressionism - and its blueness in particular - actually came
to have important consequences within their anarchist way of life.
I'ISSAKRO A N D T H F I'OI,ITT(;A12 (:OI.OUR (>F A N O K I G I N A I . V I S I O N
T h e events which show this to be the case were unfolded in Alexis's 'A Minuit'
column. They begin on 10 February 1886, when Alexis opened a subscription fund
for the families of the miners on strike in the small southern town of Decazeville.""
Indeed, in setting up a mechanism for political action in an 'Art' column, Alexis
seemed to want to make the point that art and life were not separate domains.
H e had almost said as much in an earlier article of 31 January 1886, entitled
"'Germinal" 2 Decazeville', in which he taunted the Minister of Fine Arts, who
had recently suppressed a theatrical adaptation of Zola's Germinal, with news of
the outbreak of the Decazeville strike. Triumphantly, he sniped:
E' viennent de jouer Germinal!
Oui, dans la realit6 - B Decazeville.
Est-ce que vous n' seriez plus ministre, monsieur Goblet?'"
Undoubtedly in collusion with Alexis, Signac sent money to the Decazeville
fund just in time for his contribution to be featured in the first issue of 'A minuit'
to host the subscription (on 10 February). T r u e to form, Alexis prefaced Signac's
covering letter with the acid remark: 'Voici u n artisse peintre . . . Rien de
Cabanel!771
And Signac himself wrote in terms which emphasized the connection
between his political motives in making a contribution and his preference, as an
Impressionist painter - an anti-Cabanel - for bluc. In an otherwise nonsensical
double-entendre, he conlided:
Mon cher Tublot
Ci: 5 francs pour la sousscrission . . .
Une thume c'est bien pcu; rnais lc blcu dc cobalt cst si cller!
Paul Si,m a c
peintre irnpressionniste
130, boulevard de ClichyU
Signac certainly did use cobalt blue, even luridly. In contrast to Goeneutte's
tonal painting of the same motif, Signac's L a Nelye, boulevard de C l i c l ~of 1886 (plate
54) makes extensive use of the colour, not just for the worker's blouse (on the left),
but also for the shutters on the houses and its many shadows.
Pissarro's sympathy for his colleagues' effbrts is revealed by an anonymous
contribution of two francs which Alexis featured in his 'sousscrission' column for
14 February. According to Alexis, the money was Yent in by 'un copair1 B Signac,
~ ' this
de Gisors (Eure), qu'avale mal qu' Trublot jaspine mal du L o ~ v r e . 'That
correspondent was Pissarro is revealed by the fact that Pissarro used the fbrm
'Eragny-sur-Epte par Gisors, Eure' for his address in letters of the same week.''
His identity is further confirmed by the ironic attack in the letter upon Alexis for
having recently rnade hostile remarks in his column about the Louvre,75as it was
about this time that Pissarro probably first made his own inflammatory remarks
about the same i n s t i t u t i ~ n(Pissarro
.~~
had good reason to remain anonymous, as
his post had previously been tampered with, and he suspected the police of having
him under surveillance as a political subver~ive.)'~
*Jokeslike Pissarro's in this letter may appear trivial in themselves, but they
expressed preferences which, within six months, had helped consolidate support
for Alexis's fund considerably - and well beyond the rarified confines of the Caze
I'ISSARKO A N D I'HE I'OLITICAL C<)I,OUR O F A N ORIGINAI, VISION
salon. By 30 April 1886, Alexis's Decazeville fund had amassed the considerable
sum of 5,000 francs, which means it must have had wide support among the Parisian
workers. And, indeed, evidence exists which suggests that the Parisian workers
might have sent money to the fund because they identified with Alexis's politicized
taste for Impressionism. O r at least this appears to be the case to judge from a
letter which Adam published in the journal Lulice for 31 January 1886. In this,
he regaled the reader with the following anecdote, very possibly about Signac's
L a Neige, boulevard de Clichy:
Dernikrement un pcintre de mes amis travaillait en plein air, dans une
rue de Montmartre. Des badauds massts derrikre lui tmettaient des
stupiditts tnormes. Survint un garGon boucher qui regarda la toile de
f a ~ o nintelligente et dit:
'Tiens! c'est tr2s chic, Ga: c'est dc l'impressionnismc.'
Mon peintrc de se retourner, ahuri:
'Comment savez-vous?'
'Le Cri, parbleu! dans les articles de Trublot!"'
It has to be admitted that the workers' enthusiasm for Impressionisnl was only
one factor in the success of Alexis's column; nonetheless, it does appear that the
feelings Impressionism could arouse did at least facilitate real opposition to the
bourgeois culture which Pissarro and his friends detested. Alexis's was the first
subscription fund to be instituted for the Decazeville miners, but it led to others,
which in total amassed between 200,000-300,000 fi-ancs, allowing the Decazrville
rniners to stay on strike for 108 days."' And even though their resistance was
finally crushed, and the Decazeville minc was eventually run down,80it can be
said fairly that art played some part in crystallizing an effbrt to transform life.
PISSARRO'S ORIGINALITY
These events are significant, and not just because they suggest art can have a salutory
effect on life, even when politically nai've." They also demonstrate the conditions
in which originality might be said to be possible, and in the process cast some light
on the concept of originality itself.
These problems are best explained by reference to Wittgenstein's (later) thinking
about what makes a sign meaningful. In this scheme, the meanings of signs of
any sort are normally circumscribed by what they can achieve within particular
'form(s) of life'." A word, for example, has a meaning within a specific
'language-game'"' where it 'attains a goal's' appropriate to particular circumstances themselves defined by the'customs and institutions'" of a culture. O n e
of thc fundamental jobs which words do is exemplify shared thoughts, feelings and
beliefs for the different individuals of a culture so that they can share a rationality
and communicate with one another. It follows that a word cannot have 'private'
meanings; rather, it must carry a meaning which is at least potentially capable
of being made public, and used in social life, if it is to signify at
A sign such as painting is rather like a 'paradigm' - or an example of something
I'ISSAKKO A N D T H E I'OLITICAL COJ.OUK O F AN O R I G I N A L V I S J O N
corresponding to a name-word - in that it has meaning when it instantiates a
set of particular and also shared beliefs (as a thing with a name does). In other
words, a painting signifies publicly when it expresses a n agreed sense.R7This is
not to say that paintings cannot function in ways different from language, or that
they cannot exert psychological effects on a n adequately sensitive and informed
spectator irrespective of rules and conventions. (In the case of Pissarro's paintings.
the spectator gets posited as a particular kind of disinterested perceiving subject,
and slhe experiences a particular emotion as a c o n ~ e ~ u e n c e . )It' ~ is to say,
however, that in brcoming public, the psychological effects of paintings are ipso
Jacto subsumed to linguistic descriptions of what those effects are. T h e meanings
of paintir~gsare also measured against the meanings of comparable paradigms (or
conventions) whose sense is already established (if contested by different
communities of belief). Both ways, paintings become paradigmatic of the
intentionality and beliefs of the form of lifc they are thou<yhtor said to represent
or express.
Pissarro's (generally) colourist paintings of his own sensa/iotls can be seen to
have come to signify because they recognizably negated and refused the meanings
of existing paradigms - Salon pictures - whose sense was already public (if
disputed). For example, in his writings, ThCophile ThorC had argued that Salon
art represented the vision of a 'bourgeois' class, whose preoccupation with the 'utile'
and its obsession for 'argent' made it lose any 'sentiment de la nature', and rendered
it 'aveugle devant les tableaux colorts par la l ~ r n i i r c . "All
~ in all then, it can be
said that Pissarro's colourist paintings had a weak originality in that they signified
a kind of sense already largely defined by language and by the paradigms whose
tneanings they negated.
However, the kind of theory I am using nonetheless holds to the view that the
rneaning of a painting is to some extent sui generis,'"' or that it is not reducible to
the language used to make its sense public. As paintings of his .sensations, therefore,
Pissarro's colourist pair~tingshad a certain nebulous deterrninacy, a 'pcculiar' or
'particular' psychological effect," which existed prior to thcir inscription within
language as paradigms, and which informed their meaning subsequently. This
much also applies to Pissarro's predominantly bluc paintings - for the sake of
argument, it can be said that they produced a particular effect of immateriality.
And it is this that f'acilitated their entry into public sense, even though they were
less reducible to language than were Pissarro's generally colourist paintings.
Empirically, the precise sense of the blue pictures could not be cxpressed so vasily
or so completely in tcrms of their enacting a simple negation of' Salon conventions.
And their entry into public sense as paradigms of the particular feelings they
exemplified was complicated (and made risky for Pissarro) by the fact that nobody
(including the artist) had words with which to describe this effect. They were not
empty of meaning because ofthis, hut laden with (as yet) pre-linguistic meaning
(which is prot~ablywhy Pissarro failcd to register his prefcrcnce fbr bluc in tlicsc
paintings for what it was).
Further light can be cast on the strange situation f;icing Pissarro's bluc pictures
betbrc they came to have public sense by comparing this with the situation fiicing
those neologisms which arc not composed out of the elements of an already existing
language. It is fairly plain that such a worci can only makc sense when there is
P I S S A K R O A N D T H F P O L I T I C A I , C:OLOUR OF A N ORIGINAL. V I S I O N
a language-game and a form of life in which it can be used. And so, unless it is
to rernain 'without meaning' (like some of the words in Lewis Carroll's
or make sense only in the realm of an imaginary form of life (like 'Excalibur'),""
it can signify only if generated in response to sorne change(s) in social life. In this
case it signifies sorne newly discovered thing, event or experience. This kind of
case seems to stipulate that Pissarro's blue pictures could only corne to enter language
and gain publicity as paradigms once there was a form of life which could guarantee
their sense, andlor the sense of the language used to define that.
However, the evidence strongly suggests that Pissar-ro's blue pictures did not
signify publicly merely because they followed upon social changes that had already
happerlcd. O n the contrary, it seems inescapable that their pre-linguistic, psychological effects actually encouraged Alexis and his comrades to act on the feelings
they prompted and evolve new forms of life, or at least evolve new means of
resistance to bourgeois economic power. And so, it seems that Pissarro's blue
pictures came to gain sense as paradigms of an anarchist set of values precisely
because they had been effective in consolidating those values within a new form
of life.
This being the case, Pissarro's blue pictures were original in the strong sense
that they had the force to signify publicly before they had the chance to do so.
And they had this potential to be original because they were grounded in Pissarro's
vision, and not in words. Accordingly, it was the irreducibility of Pissarro's
'daltonisme' to rules of meaningful seeing that gave it the potential to carry an
original sense."' O r , which is (almost) the same: it was the anarchic quality of'the
way Pissarro saw that grounded his paintings' ability to signify anarchism without
them having to spell out how this was to be achicvcd."'
Paul Smith
BIi ~ t o llrt~iuersity
NOTES
l A<.u~rtlrng
to 1,illa Cahot Pcr-S!. Monrr told her
rrr 188C) ' W h r n you #o out to pailit, rr\. ro
I O I qc.1 hat ob,jccrs )(]U have I I ~ . ~ I t.I I you
Alcrcly think, her(. is ;t lictlr quart i l l blue.
1it.1.1.; I I I ohlong ol' pink, here a srrrak O S yrllow.
I
I
it U
i s it look o c
. . . ' Shr
;dso rccallb that Milnrt ' w ~ y h r dhr had been
II~II-n
blind ;Incl thcn h,rd .;uddenly piinrrl h ~ s
sight so rlrat hr. ~ r ~ u l Iir,q~rl
rl
to parnr i r ~rhis w a y
nirhorrt k n o w i n ~whnt thr <~l)jr(.ts
w(,rc. rti;~rhe
. ; n u h(.li)r~.
hi111' SC.I.I.. Nc~chlin (rrl ).
111rp11\\ioni\rrr
t ' o \ / - l ~ r r p\11111i$rn
~ ~ ~ ~ 187g-l004
S I I ~ Tan//
I I , >l ) o ( u m e n / \ , linglcwoorl (:Irtt?;. Nrw
Jcrsc), 196t1, p. 3 5 . In a similar Lcln. (;C/,rnnc
rrputrrll) told ,Jo~ichirrrG a s q u r t : 'Jr. vois. IJ;lr
t,i(h(.s'. ; ~ n t ltic is sup[)oscd t c ~ ha\^ s,ricl ro ,]ulrs
I<o~-i.l>
: ' \ ' r ) i r - cornrrrr crlui qui .r irnr dr. n;li~rt.l'
Sec M . I ) O I ~ ((,cl
I I ), (,'orii,cr\a/ton~ai,~,cCbmnrr~,.
I';~rrs. 11178. 1). 113 and 22
of
2 Sec C:.F. Stuckcy. ' M o n r r ' s Art and thr
Visriln' in ,I. Krw,~ldancl F. CVritz1ic1t'li.r-(cdh ),
A t p x / \ of ,t-lon~/:A Syrr1po\7urrr on //Ic. .ll-/ii/ ' 5 L!/>
rind 7imt.t. Ncw York. 1984, p p . 108-9.
Ku.;kir~'\~ b c ~ r darc
s ri~kcnIcom , l . Kuxkrn, 771e
1</1'1rrt~71/\ I>/ 1)razoiny. 1!102 [ I H 5 6 ] , p p 5 nncl 7
( l i ~ o t n i ~ ~I'issi~rri]
r)
was Irss rnrhusiastir a1,out
Kuskin than M o n r t In a 1rtrc.r 01' March I882
ri) his nirrc, E s t h c ~ .he jtarcd: ',]I. n'ai rierl I11
tlc (.c critiquc anxl.ri\ ,I(. rrc cnnnais q u r
(111clc1urs~tlir.;Crn~sr.\11;11- tic\ ,~rtisrcsclui son1
'
plus O I I moins arl ,ollr.~nt Oc sch thttlrics . .
c~
( , ' ~ I T T C J ~ U ~ ~ ~I ~I IIJi(','(~rr~tl/~
II
Scr ,l I ' , i ~ i l l ~ - H71)1.1g,
vols.. l'c~ris. 1986-!1 (hcrc,;tlic,r RH),
1'1\~011i1,
Irttrr number 103
P I S S A R R O A N D T H E PO1,ITICAL C;OI,OUR OF A N ORIGINA12 V I S I O N
3 See R. Shiff, Cdzanne and the E n d o j Impn.~sinrti.rm:
a Study qf the 7'hiary. 7'echnique and Critllal
Evaluatiur~~dModern A T / , Chicago and London,
1984, pp 67, 68, 77, 88. 108, 125. 130, 166
and 192.
4 For an account of'tlie I-elation betwrrn the
Ilnpressionists' concepts of their vision and
I'ositi\.ist theol-ics of perception and the self, see
Shilf, op. cit., pp. 3-52.
5 S r r hr. Schapiro, ' T h e Nature of Abstract Art',
Modern AT/: the N i n d r e n ~ hand 7bpt11irth On/urie\.
N r w York, 1978, p. 192.
6 In an interview of 1903, Pissarro stated: 'Je ne
vois clue clrs taches.' See J . House. 'Carnille
Pissarro's Idea of Unity' in C . Lloyd ( r d . ) ,
Sudier un Camillr Pli~arro, I.ondon, 198ti. 11. 26.
For Pissarro's ideas on thc 'impression', src
Shim. o p . cit., 1). 242, n . 20. J . House discusses
I'issarro's ideas on svnsatiun in relatiorl to ShiWs
a~-xunlcntin op. t i t . , pp. 15-34.
7 See ,Jean Rcnoir. Hrnotr, Paris, 1962. p. 1 1 1.
8 'Sensations h-ee from rverything hut your own
censations.' R H 815.
9 RH 358. Pissilrro also mrntionrd Chrvl-eul in a
lcttrr 01' October 1886 ( R H 356). Pissarrv
h]-idly abandoned Chevreul's snbtractlvr systern
of colour analysis In the mid-1880s in favour of
the additive systcrn proposed by Ogdcn Rood.
For n suc<:inct analysis of thr main diffrrcncrs
hetwccn the two systrnis and their r-clation tu
art, src J . C . \Yrhstcr, ' T h r 'I'echnr(luc 01' tht:
Irnprcssionists: A Rrappri~isal', ?%c Cn1L:yr AT!
,/c,urnal, no. 4, N o v r m b r r 1944, pp. 3-22.
10 ' d c Rellio tells rnr that he does not think that
physicists' research nhout colour and light can
b r of use to the al-tist. any more than anaroniy
o r optics . . ; hut sur-rly, we [ t h r
Irnprrssionists] could not have pu~->uvclo u r
stlr(lirs ol'light with so rnuch assurance, if we
had not had as a ~ u i d ct h r discovcrirs of
Chcvrrul and o t h r r scientists. 1 would not havr
disting~~ishecl
betwren local colour- and
illumin;rtion, if scirnce had not given us thc
hint: thr sarrlc holds true ol'cornplerrlrrltar-y
i.olours, contrasts, ancl ~ h clike.' RH 397.
I I Rood dcscr.ihrs the variations in the i.olour of
sunlixht, the different intensities ol' !,lucncss in
the skvlighc and thc mannrr- in which ot?jccts
pick u p reflections of the colour of other ohjccts
in op. cit., pp. 4fi-7, 45 and 5. Since these
cll'rcts appcar earlier in Impressionist painting
thry may have Iearllcd of them I'rom 1,conartio's
7'rattalu (assuming that thcv ~ h o y l z cabout what
thry did), since this wor-k mentionet1 how the
(.olours ol'objects in the o p r n air arc altectcd hy
thr colour of thr illurr~irration,blur shadows and
rrflections. See A 7iea1i.r~on Pairltin,y by Leonardu
da li'nc-i. failhfully trnn~la/od,fromthe or(<rinal Itolian
and r/~er/erlunder proprr head), t ~ vJ . F . K i p ~ r ~ d ,
I,ondon, 1835, pp. 150-1. 13.5 and 147-!l. 139
and 147. 'I'. DUI-etolfrred a similar- taxonomy
of the luministic cl'l'rcts trcatrd hy thr
Irnprrssionists in 'Les Printres
ilnpressionnistes', 1878; reprinted in Criliyrre
d'auant-farde, Paris. 1885, pp. 68-9.
12 Rood discusses the physiological rffect of
successi\e contrast and the psychological effrct
of simultaneous contrast in op. (:it., pp. 203-8
and 209-17. Chevreul's book is rnostly
concerned with simultaneous contrast, although
he does discuss successive contrast. See
Chevreul, op. cit., $ $ 79-81 and IJ:1-41.
1.ronardo rrrentions an effect which is that of
sir~rultaneouscontl-ast in op. cit., p. 269.
13 FknCon analysed Srurat's colour into 'touleur
Ioralt.', 'orang? solairr', 'ornhrr'. 'reflets' and
'compli.rnentaires' in 'VIII' l'xposition
irrrpressioniste', I,a V I I , ~ I13-20
IP,
J u n r 1886;
'1,'Irnprcssionnismc'. I. 'Emanclpalion ~oriale,l 7
April 1887; and 'Le NCO-Irnpressionnis~~~c',
I. 'AT/ modern? rle H r u x r l k ~ ,1 May 1887. S e r J . U
Halperin, 1;dli.r Finion; Oel~urr~
p l u ~que compl2le.r,
Paris and Geneva, 1970, pp. 35-6, 66 and 73.
14 HH 350, 3.52 and 354.
l i RH 41 5 and a letter publishrd in H . Uorr-a and
J . Rcwalcl. .6urat, I'aris. 1959, p. X I X .
16 '(:l..A . ].cc, 'Seurat ancl Scicncc', .4r/ H i r l o ~ y ,
vol. 10, no. 2 , J u n e 1987, pp. 203-26, which
takes E'6nCon's views as accurate testimony of
S r u r a t ' s intentions. I have argued against his
virw (even rhoc~ghScurat seems to have endorsed
F6nton.s ideas in his letter- of 28 August 1890
to h4;luricc Beaubourg) in my article, 'Seurat:
'I'hc Natural Scirnrist'. Apollu, I > r ( - r m l ~ r1990.
r
pp. 381-5. For a n earlier, but s o r n r n l ~ a t
strategic endorsement of Feneon's test, sec
Seur-at's letter of 1888 to Signac in J . Rewald,
.S?ural, Paris, 1948, pp. 114-15. F6nton first
cried to rlicit information f'roln Seurat in May
1886. I n n Irtter to F,douard 1)ujartlin and
'l'todor (lc \Vyzrwa, he confided that hc had
h r r n in touch with t h r 'impressionr~istes,Seur-at
rt Signac' and that 'il 1Fin60nl c s p h que lrs
irrrprrssionnistes ont obtrn~perC2 sa dclnande.'
Unpublished manuscript, Rihliothi-clue litteraire
J a c q u r s Doucrt. M N R M S 28." Rut as late as
Septrmher 1886, in R H 3 2 . Pissarro told
1.utirrr: 'j'aurais birn ~ o u l uqu'il [I:?nCon]
s'aclrrssit 2 Scurat, rr~aisc'rst impossihlc. '
1 7 HH 358. L o Impre~~~ionnh/o.r
cn l AHh was a rocue~l
of three ol' F e n i o n ' s articles: 'V1 11' Exposition
irnprrssionnistc' (ser n. IO), 'V' Expusition
intrrnationalt: tic peinturr et de sculptui~r'. 1.a
Ibyue, 20 Junr-5 July 1880 and
'1,'Imprcssionnisme aux 'l'uillrr-ies'. L :,lr/
modernc (It, Bruxellc~., 19 Septcn~bcr1886. S r e
Halpcrin. op. cit., pp. 29-38, 46-50, 39-42.
'0-1, 4:j-5 and 552-8. It was puhlishrd at thr.
cnd of October 1886.
18 I'issarro was cri-tainly not satisfirtl with
FCnGon's descriptions of the Nro-lrnpl-rssionist
tcchniquc. Srt: nly articlrs, 'Srurat: l ' h c
Naturi~l Scientist'. Ioc. t i t . , 1). 383 and
'I'icturrs and Histoi-y: O n e M a n ' s T r u t h ' .
I'ISSAKKO 4 N D I ' H E POLI'I'ICAL C:OI.OUK OF AN O R I G I N A 1 2 V I S I O N
Oxfort1 .47/,/orr77iu/, vol. 10. no. 2, Dccelnber
1987, p. 100.
l!) I'issarro's 'blrvr', CPzannr, rrratly forrnularrd
~ h c o n r q n e n c e s 01' the rlf'rcr k)r paintinq in a
I-c.niark 111. m a d r to Lbo Larguirr in t h r i ~
corrvcrsations ol' I!)Ol-2: 'Peindrc, cc n'est pas
copier I'ohjectif: c'est saisir unc h a r ~ n o n i ccntrc
clrs r a p p o r t s n o m b r r u x , c'est les transposrl- dans
une g;rrnmr B soi cn les dbvrloppant sui\ant une
logiquc ncuvc ct o r i ~ i n a l c . 'Scc D o r a n . op. cit.,
11. l i . For a dcscription of how colours i11'li.ct
orlc anclthcr's a p p a r r n t size (the Von Rezold o r
'sl)rracltng' rffrct), s r r E . H . G o m l ~ r i c h ,411
, and
liiu\ion. ..l S/udy zin t h ~P!yrho/ofy of /'l(-loriai
H(,/~r~~rnlution,
O x l o r d , 1987 (1,oneIrrn. 1060), p.
2b0 a n d n. 61.
20 S r r Kood, op rir., pp 117-18. Sornc tinrc
I~rl'orr 1889, Pissal-1-0tol(i (;.W. Shclclorr that
the optirnurn virwing distancr fijr his paintings
LV;IS t h r r r tinlrs t h r cl~agnnal.S e c , ] . House,
.2-lone/: Nulure into Art, Ncw Haven anrl London,
1!)8ti. Signilieantly, rhis is g r r a t r r than the
.
.
vlrwlng distancr oI' ;In ,Acarlr~oicpainting t h r r r timrs its rnaxirnuln dimension, according
ro Charles Blanc in the Gran~mair~ a r / ~(In
(l(,\\irr (I'aris, 1867,
537).
21 O n e ol' the t)csl descriptions of thcsc el'l'ecrs in
corrlbin<~tion~ ~ c c u in
r s the Goncourts'
clr.\cr-iption 111'C:hartlin'swork. S r r h;. and J . d r
(;oncourt. L 'Art nu (fix-l~uiliirn~
siirlr,, vol. 1 ,
1'.~ .i r ~ l120f5,
s,
pp 144 :1r1c1 157-8. Koljrrt
Katclil'l'c Lirr~llydrew I I I \ . attention to rhcsc
1 "IS""Rr\
'L2 I'issarro lirsr ~ n r n t i o n shis use ol 'rr~Clar~gc
optiqut.' in letters OS J u l y i A u ~ u s r 1886 and rlors
so again in the letter of Novrmbrl- 1881i to
Uurand-Kurl ( R H 349 and 358). Hrl-r h r also
mrntions an i d r a of' Rood's: that I l ~ r n ~ n ( n ol'
~ty
.In ol~ti(.;llrrrixtul-c 01' ~ ~ i y r n r nis
t s yrr ;ltcr than
rh.u oI'i1 physical rnixrurc ol' the sirrrlc I,lqrrlcnts
(sec Kood. o p . cit.. pp 124-5). 'l'his notion
l?;rtu~-cclprominently in Fenban's descriptions oI'
thc NCO-Impressionist technique (sre H a l p e r ~ n ,
01'. (.it., PI). 36, 54-5, 67 ;rntl 73). hut again
only bccausc of Piasarro, nnd n r ~ tbccausc 01'
Scurar. H c probaljly Icnrncd about '1116langc
opriqur' I'rorn Blanc's Gr(rwnrnn~rc//(,S~ r t s~ I I
( I P J J I ~pp.
, 604-6. \vhlcli he I-ead '311 c o l l i . ~ e ' ,01froln Illanc's articlr 'Eug?nr Drlacl-<\is'.C;ar~//e
d r ~h~aux-ark,vol. 16, 1864, pp. 1 12 .~ntl
115-16. Sec Seurat's letter to FGnton of 20
, J u n e 1890 In H a l p c l - ~ no, p c i t . , 1). 507
2 3 Scr J C;;~gc, 'Colour in History: Rrlativc o r
.4ljsolu~e?',Art H i d o ~ p ,vol. 1, no. I , March
1!l78, p,). 104-30: ancl U . Eco. ' H o w C u l t u r r
(:<jr~clirior~s
tt~c.(;olours b ' t ~See' in bl. I<lonsky
(ctl. ). O n S<(,ni. .-L Scn~iotir\Headfr, Oxl'ortl, 1985,
.p,,. 157-7.5 (I ; r r l l srarclul to Kon Kaxtcr lor
11115 ~rvlr~-rn(,c).
2 I.. \ Y i ~ t ~ c n s ~discuscrs
rin
the concrpt oS 'srrinx; I \ ' in his F'hilo\o/~hirai Inr'estz~/~/ion\,
Oxforcl,
1!),78. 1). 197". Wittgrnstcin rnakrs the point
about the conrcxt-dcpcndenrc of 'srring-'1s' with
rrsprct 10 colour in his Hm~oths0 7 1 (,'oiorlr (1.0s
Angeles, l!)78), whcrc he arxucs in Ijook I, Ej 73
that C;octhe's rrmarks on tht. rhar;~ctersOS
colours arc of little usr hccausr ' S o r n e ~ ) n cwho
speaks ol' thc charactcl- of a colour is always
thinking ol'just one particular way it is u s r d . '
Z i 'l'his is all the more prrssinq a question because
\\hilt the Irrrprcssionist.; San, was often strongly
I c~untc~.-irrtuitivc.
Motlcrn prrcry)ru;rl science
1~11sus rh;rt nc)l~nallywe d o not s r r colour
patches I)ur I-rilircl things, a n d that W C d o not
cli~~rctly
rrglstrl- tlir rnoditications which thr
illumination, s k y l i ~ h t ,rcllcctions a n d contrasts
irnposr o n ol,lcctr, but instcad that c)ur~ ) r r c r p t i o nol colour is rcl;lrivcly consrant.
S i r ~ ~ i l ; r ~ rcrent
-ly,
rcsr;lrch (and espccinlly [hat of'
k:d\virr ],and) shows that thr additivr s)strrrl 01'
colour which Pissarro espoused in thr mid-1880s
S r e J . D . Mollon, 'C:olour \'ision
is col-I-i~iblr.
;lnd Colour. Blindness', in H . R . Rarlow ancl
1. l ) Mollon (crls.), 777~Sr,nrr,.\, (:ambridgc,
111ij2, \I[) 16.5-01
2(, ' I 11t. (.as(. (11' l . r ~ ~ n ; ~ sho\vs
r d ~ ) ~ j h ythis is an
Irnlx)rt;LnI 1 ~ 1 1 i ar .s he knew that ;I variety of'
l i ~ hcl'li.cts
~
; ~ n ( lsul,jc(.ti\,r effrcts could modify
Irmk of ol~jcct.;in the open ail- (ser n . 9 and
n . IO), 1)ut n r v r r p;rintrd what h r saw. W ~ t h i n
1111.con\tmtlons of thr 1ir111.~t s ~ m l ~ l\%ouIci
y
l~ot
I1.1vt. I I I ; I ~ I . sense.
2 7 ..l'lrc. I... l r.c, 1111.d\ v h ~ s c111~1lrilpcis r e s [ ) I c ~ ~ ~ l c ~ ~ t
with ;l11 ~ h ccolours 01' t he ~-;rinbo\\' . 'Roueuse'
means ' m u d d y ' . RH 11 7 and 188. In ir sinirlar
v r i n , I'issarro described the [own of' C;ompi6snc
in a lcttcr of' Frljruary 1884, as 'pay? plat er
I)o~lrgrois,solrnncl; un pctit \~crsnillcs trhs
m;luss;~rlc . . . ' ( R H 2 16).
28 'l'his v1.1.y t)elicl' clncrgcs rr1or.c clearly in a lcttcr
I'~\s;rr-r-o\vrotc to S ~ g n ; ~i cr ~1888. in lvhlch tic
cxl)rc\scd hi\ tlc~rrorat rliscc)vcrin~the Idealist
tountlation\ (11 Srllr;~t's;u-I ( R H 503). I n this,
hc atlvisrcl S ~ q n ; ~I Oe .~vnicl Scurat'c inllucncc
and ' A p p l ~ q u. ~. ~ In~ S( icncc qui appal-ticnt B
I O I I I Ic rnonrlt.'. 1,ut hr. ;11so told hirn: 'g;~rtlrz
IIOIII.
v o u s l ~~ ~l o nr111c. vous , r \ , e ~d r scntir (,n
nrtrrtc d/' r u ~ (lihti,'. For ;I 1 u I l ~ rd i s c ~ ~ s s i 01'
~ r ithis
letter-, src t h r t.on~.lusionto rny articlr. 'l';~ul
Adarn, Soi ct Ics pcintrcs irnprcssionnistcs',
Recuc (/P /'art, no. 82, December 1988, pp
l!)-T,O,Sirlrilarly, in the letter (11' N o \ , e m b r ~
Ii(1iO to 1)urancl-Kucl ( H H 358). 1'iss;lrro stiltrcl
tll,\t 'la s c ~ o~r li g ~ n a l ~ t Ccons~stccl
'
ol' 'lc car,rrttr-r
(111 (l~.ssinr t I;I v ~ s i o np;~rticullPrci chaqur
ilr~~stc'
2") R) 187ti. Pics,~rrowas probably reading La
Lantrmr~d~ .l/rrr\rt/lr,, a jor~rnalwhich publishetl
P r ~ ) u i i h o n .S I T K. Shikcs. 'Pissarro's f'(~llt~(.al
P h i l o \ ~ ) p h y;~rrdhis .Art'. In I.loytl, (>p.( . i t . . 1111.
:30-40. Accot.tling to RH 20'1, RH 21 1 . RH 304
;lnrl I l E i 449, I'issar-ro h;lrl I-cad 1'10~1dhon's
rnassivt, Dc l a j r ~ \ / i dun\
c ~ /(I t(;i,o/r~/iot~
1.1 (/(in\
i'i'r/i\-(, of l858 and other \vo~-ksof his.
.. . .
sll[s~ll
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[ !{. ) ~ ~ I ,I<
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v,
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a[rl![ I? ~ U V I S , : J P . . K ~ ! ,,\ ; . ~ . I J ~ I
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S! s ~ q lI n % [ .
IOU
1 7 V D I . L I 7 0 d X H L U N V OHHVSSId
P I S S A R R O A N D T H E P O I > I T I C A L C:OIdOUR O F A N O R I G I N A L V I S I O N
.54 I'~s\;lrro ~ n c n t i o n e dH u y \ r n ; ~ n s ' sbook in two
It.ttrrs 111 M a y 1883 (HH 145 and 146). Signac
rc<<lrdsthat Seurilt (also ;I m r m b e r (11' C a z r ' s
\ulon ) knrw and admired L 'All N I U ~ . TinI ~De
P
D~~larroix
au nio-impre~~zonntsme,P a r ~ s ,1978
(1899). p. 110.
j.5 L ',4rt morlcrnr, p. 104. (:l ibid 1). 136. Kood
tliscusses Daltonis~liin op. c ~ t . .pp 79-82.
1)altonism n a s wldrly publicized in I:. VCron,
L ' E ~ t h k i q u r .Paris, 1883 (1878). p. 277. O n thc
Imprcssionista and I)altonism, see 0.
Rei~rers\vli~-cl,
' T h e Violrttomania of the
Iniprrssionists', LJournal I J ~Ae~fhelzrsnnd Arl
Crrli(l~ni,\,ol. I X , no 2, 1950, pp. 106-10 O n
I)altonisrn, ser W . ( ; . Wright, ' T h e C l r ~ r o l ~ r ( l
I'roblrrn of Ualtonisrn' in 7hr Rays nrr No1
Coluur~d,Idondon, 1967, pp. 67-87.
.?h L L4rf muderne, pp. l07 and 106.
11 Sctting thr book's ton?. H u y s ~ n a n sopened
1- '.4r/ ~no~lrrrrc
with rhc prefitory remark.
'(:ontl.;~il-rmrnt B I'opinion r c ~ u c ,j'rstime
,
qur
rollre v6rit.G rst honnr i d i r e . ' For cxi~rnplcsof
Huy.\rr~ans'slogic, sre L ' A r t mudcrnr. pp. 10-12,
14-15. 17, 42-3. 86, 101-3 and 138-R. In a
s ~ m i l a r\.tin, Caze describrti thr wnl-k of Jean
Reraud as 'peu vrai' a n d cvcn 'SZILIX'
i r ~his
Srilun of l885 (Inc. cit.).
58 'l'his is not to d r n y that orher kinds 111' pictorial
h l u c n c s ~could mean o t l ~ e rthings to tlittrrent
cv~rlrrrunit~es
oS lanquagr-use. Richard Shil'l'
kindly pointrd out to me that C t z a n n c ' s
l ~ l u r n r s sm ~ g h tstand as a s i p of
Meditrrraneanism for writers like M a u r i r e
I)rrlis, and hence acquire a kind of rractiorlnry
\,llur. Rlue in a paintinR convcntionally
t ~ x l x c s c d' m o d r s t i r ' o r ' C ~ I I I ~ C InrI I -some
'
such
ernotion. S r r D Sutter. 'Lra PtlCrlomZ-nes d r la
\.iaion', I,'Arl, vol. 20, 1880, p. 219.
59 ' T h e artistic climate does not suffer kern
Daltonis~nbccause of any causr in the nature of
things, but b r ~ . a u s eit sul'fers the rvil and
s i ~ t u r n i n t~nlluenceof dcrrlocracy.' A Germain,
Polir /P htciu, Paris, 1893, p . 123.
60 On this h ~ ~ b j e cat n, d borrowing frorr~
Raudelaire's 'Salon d e 1846', J r a n R ~ c h e p i n
wrotr: ' I x peuple cst \,rainlent plus a]-tiste q u c
la bourgeoisie. 11 n'ohCit pas, comme elle, a u
mot tl'ordre tyrilnniquc d c la mode, qui n ~ u a
habille tous B I'unil'nl-me. D'instinrt . . . il reasit
contrc ccttr maladlc moderne d c I'i-galit;~rismr
en matikrc d e costumr. . . . Ainsi. tantlis q u e
nous allons dans la \.ir . . . tristernent vetus d r
nail- . . . portant tterncllemenr le deuil d c nos
gaietCs perdues . . . et tous unitbrmPment
\.~llainsr t sinistres, comrnr u n r bande d r
(orbeaux. ils travaillent cn chantant d;lns unc
fitc d c costurnrs et d r c.c,ulrurs . . ' (1.
Rirhepin, L e Paui, Paris, 1883, pp. 204 and
207-8).
61 Sol, p. 422. In thr Pdil Bo/!in des lcltrej el des urls
(Paris, 1886). Adam had written in the entry
concernina S i y n a ~ :'Au pinceau: des Ial-gcurs
.
t)lcucs d c t l r u ~ rt,nsolrillt. . . . ' ( p . 125).
0 2 "l he people, rhty ;Irr i.olou~- 11's thc only c l a s
111' soclety whrrc thcrc is so 111uc
h Idue anti
white. 'I'hc blourc 01' the vrl-y poor workers is a
dr.1~1blue. a worn-out, hacl-its-clay blue with
cxtrdol-dinarv. grernlsh shado\+b. O n e could
w ; ~ r ~the)\'
t
col~)urs,in plush, t o make blinds
with.' S O I ,p. 416.
(13 "l'hc s t r ~ k i n gbpectacle of the life 01' a Parisian
i.itvscnpc t r r t c h e d back into the paintiny ar.l-oss
;I blue ancl yrey mornirig i~rmosphcrc.'.SOI,p.
+l!].
64 ' U n i t r d in a grrat blue sensation, a t~luriah
sl;lzr of air.' Sol, p . 420.
65 ' T h e krynote of this synrhromy ranS out in the
tlrrp blue Pe/~/,Journalposter which covered the
whc~lcgable OS iln isolated housc on the
rivct.bank.' Sol. 1>p. 419-20.
r)o I'll-hapa this is why Kcvr~oldspros~.ribcdrhc use
111' I ~ l u eas the 'prrdc~minnnrcolour in a picturr',
nt Ic,~at according to a n apor.rvpha1 story. T h c
silmr story has i t that G a i n b o r o u s h painted his
Blue Boy precisely to defy Reynnlds: howrver,
Lawrenrr cornrnented that Gainshorough's
painting amounted to ' a dil'liculty holclly
comb;lttccl, not conquerrd' See W T . Whitley,
7'hornu~(;orn,hornu~7h. Idondon, 1015, pp. 375-7.
1 a m g r a ~ r l i l lto Micharl l i v e r s i d g r for this
refrrencc.
(i7 Ser C:. Haudel;~ire, 'l,e Peintrc d c la vir
moclrrnc'. 1863; reprinted in Oruorr~rompl?/c~.
\.oI. 2, Paris, 1'176, p. 699. Richard ShiSf kindly
11r0111ptcd~ n Rr I recall this quotation. T. Uurct
recalls how CCzannv's work was (onsidrrecl
'pcinture d'anal-chistr' (undoubtedly because of
its subversion of t r a d ~ t i o n a lpictorial hierarchies)
in his Hirtuire d e ~peinlrer impresszonnisl~s,Paris,
1922 (1906), p . 145.
68 Sec RH 14.5 and R H I4t).
6CJ 'l'hc L)e<~~zeville
strikc broke out on 26 J a n u a r y .
For a ~ictailedanalysis of the events in question.
sec D Reid, The M i n e n oJ L)rcazr~,i//r.A
(;enr.a/o~puf L)eindustrzallJatiun, C a m b r i d s r , Mass.
a n d I.ondon, 1985, pp. 91-106.
70 ' T h e y ' v e just performed " G e r n ~ i n a l " !Yes, but
in reality - at Uccazeville. AI-cn't you minister
any rnorr, monsirul- Gc~blet?'
71 'Hrl-e's an artlst of a painter . . . None of your
C:abanrl"
72 ' U r a r T r i ~ b l o t ,hrre'a 5 francs for the
subscription . . . Five francs is not m u c h , but
cobalt blur is so dear!' This lettrr is
unpublishetl elsewherr. Alcxis also records a
' ~ n a g n i f i q u rvolume valant ;l11 moins 100 fr.
offert par M . Paul Signilc, print]-e
impressionniste' in ' A minuit' of 9 April 1886.
73 ' A mate of S i ~ n a c ' s ,from Gisors (Eure), who
finds it hard to swallo\v that Trublot gossips
nlal~ciouslyabout the Louvre.' Not in R H .
74 S r r BH 311 a n d B H 313.
75 Alrxis's remarks we]-c made in 'A rninuit' of 29
,January 1886 and they were promptrd by a
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PISSAKKO A N D 'I'HE I'OLI'I'ICAL,
!l2 S r r I.. Wittgcnatcin, op. cit., 1958, 13.
9 3 Srr. ibid., $ $ 39 and 45.
94 IVittgrnsrein discuaxs thr rule-governed nature
(11' seeing-as in op. cit., 1958, $ 74.
95 Cf. Wittgrnstein, who argues that garrres can
(:OI,OUK O F AN O K I G I N A I . VISION
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W~ttsr.natein,op. cit., 1958, S$ 83 ancl 100.
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