Anarchy and Art: Exploring the Art and Political Views of Camille Pissarro

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by Josh Wilmoth

Anarchy and Artwork

Camille Pissarro’s artwork is best known for the influence it had on Impressionism. He is lesser known for his anarchist beliefs, which permeated his artwork. Nevertheless, Pissarro’s artwork did not overtly call for a violent revolution as one might expect. His paintings featured bright colors, detailed figures, and pleasant settings. Without understanding Pissarro’s background and belief system, it is likely that one will not understand what he hoped to convey through his pieces. It is unlikely that an observer unfamiliar with Pissarro would ever gather from his artwork that Pissarro was an anarchist; however, Pissarro’s anarchism motivated him to paint as he did. A cursory examination of his pieces may not reveal anarchistic themes, but a careful study of Pissarro’s paintings demonstrates that he subtly integrated his anarchistic political beliefs into his artwork.

How Pissarro Became an Anarchist

From his youth, Pissarro was sympathetic to the anarchist cause. He grew up on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, where he studied and played with children of African descent. Pissarro was known for treating all members of his own household equally because he believed that women and children were just as valuable as men. During the 1880s, Pissarro became very influenced by anarchist authors. He voraciously consumed any piece of anarchist literature that he could acquire. He subscribed to anarchist newspapers—his favorite was La Révolte— and bought as many books written by anarchists as he could afford, a habit that continued even when his financial situation became extremely dire (Adler, 1977, p. 124-5).

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