By virtue of their size, placement, and quiet dignity, these youthful laborers dominate the landscape setting—an open field near Pissarro’s house at Éragny. Sympathetic to anarchist ideals, the artist wanted to preserve the values of agrarian society that were being threatened by the rapid industrialization of France. He began this picture in summer 1891 and completed it in mid-January 1892, a month before the opening of a major exhibition of his work organized by his dealer Joseph Durand-Ruel. Many of the fifty paintings were sold from the show, but Pissarro kept this canvas and gave it to his wife.
Pissarro began this picture in the summer of 1891 and completed it in mid-January 1892, a month before the opening of a large exhibition of his work organized by Joseph Durand-Ruel. Pissarro's neo-impressionist paintings of the preceding five years or so had failed to interest his small circle of admirers; therefore the artist held great hopes for the exhibition to rescue him financially and critically. Many of the fifty paintings were sold from the show, but not this one. Afterwards, Pissarro presented this canvas, one of the largest of the group, to his wife, Julie Vellay; he never produced a larger one subsequently (Anne Poulet, memorandum dated August 10, 1971, Dept. of European Paintings files). Clark (1999) speculated that this gift may be linked to the picture’s subject, since Julie Vellay was the child of peasants; Richard Nathanson identified the figure on left as Eugenie Estruc, called Nini (1863–1931), Julie Vellay Pissarro’s niece, and a maid to Pissarro’s mother (letter to Christopher Lloyd, June 22, 1999, copy in Dept. of European Paintings files). Although there is no known study for the right-hand figure, there is a pastel portrait of Nini which served as the basis for the woman on the left (private collection, France; Pissarro and Venturi 1939, no. 1593). In working out the trees which retreat on a sharp diagonal at left, Pissarro returned to a device he had used on at least three occasions almost a decade before, based on a single black chalk drawing executed out of doors (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).
Pissarro was already moving away from pointillist technique by 1891, and this canvas shows the variety of marks and intuited approaches to color division that he had developed as an alternative to Seurat's much more controlled method. In his letters, Pissarro explained that he sought "sensation", perhaps best expressed as an optical vibrancy. But the large scale of the figures, their prominent position, and their carefully choreographed relationship suggests the impact of Seurat's figure paintings, such as the recent Circus Sideshow, 1887–88 (The Met, 61.101.17), as well as recent works by Degas. Like Seurat, Pissarro found inspiration in the quiet dignity of the rural world depicted by Jean-François Millet, and this painting, as Everett Fahy first observed, appears to have been built on poses borrowed from Millet: Seated Shepherdess and Man with a Spade, which Pissarro knew from woodcuts given to him by Millet’s son-in-law in 1884 (see Bailly-Herzberg 1980–91, vol. 1, p. 293; impressions of both works in The Met, 19.34.1 and 17.34.15). But the stylistic resemblance to Millet stops there. Théodore Duret explained in 1906 that "His peasants, in particular, have none of that superimposed grandeur with which Millet, still in part under the influence of his time, never failed to endow them. Pissarro aptly defined the quality which separated his art from that of Millet's. Writing to me in March 1881, he said: "They are all throwing Millet at my head. But Millet was biblical! It is curious, but for a Hebrew, I don't seem to have much of that quality in me." (Duret 1906, p. 68; English ed., 1911, pp. 133–34)
By virtue of their size, placement, and quiet dignity, the two women dominate the landscape setting: an open field near the artist's house at Eragny. As a confirmed anarchist opposed to the intrusion of a controlling government in the everyday life of man, Pissarro wanted to preserve the ancient values of France's agrarian society, threatened by rapid industrialization. In this respect the goal of the art of both Millet and Pissarro at this time was the same, namely, to romanticize peasant life for urban sophisticates, since the reality was inevitably harsher and much more unattractive than their depictions. However, Millet and Pissarro rendered their depictions in very different styles, the first looking back to Raphael and Michelangelo, the second looking to his contemporaries like Degas and younger paintings such as Seurat and Signac.
Although Two Young Peasant Women was noteworthy at its first exhibition because of its large scale, it did not receive much press. It was singled out by Félix Fénéon, the influential critic, anarchist, and close friend of Seurat, but he did not lavish the attention that he attached to other works at the show, for example the 1891 Peasant Women Planting Pea-sticks (private collection; Pissarro and Snollaerts 2005, no. 922): "[...] en guirlande de gestes et de couleurs pour de vernales fêtes botticeliennes" (see Fénéon 1892). Indeed, the present work, together with Peasant Women Planting Pea-sticks, and Seated Peasant Woman, Sunset (private collection; Pissarro and Snollaerts 2005, no. 914) formed a trio at the exhibition, but that was not remarked upon, either. From Georges Lecomte, writing in Durand-Ruel’s catalogue introduction, and from the words of the artist himself (interview with Joleaud-Barral quoted in Clark 1999, pp. 133, 421 n. 165), we learn that the decorative or abstract qualities of these large paintings, arrived at in the studio through the harmonious fusion of monumentality, open brushwork, and color, were considered the strongest statements of Pissarro’s latest enterprise.
[Tinterow and Miller 2005; updated by Asher Ethan Miller 2014]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): C.Pissarro.1892
Mme Camille (Julie Vellay) Pissarro, Eragny and Paris (1892–d. 1928; gift of the artist, her sale, Georges Petit, Paris, December 3, no. 25, as "La causette" for Fr 173,000 to Rosenberg); [Paul Rosenberg, Paris, from 1928]; private collection, ?Paris (in 1930); baron Maurice de Rothschild, Paris (by 1933–52; sold to Rosenberg & Stiebel); [Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, 1952; sold to Wrightsman]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1952–73; cat., 1973, no. 17)
Paris. Galeries Durand-Ruel. "L'œuvre de Camille Pissarro," April 7–30, 1904, no. 84 (as "La Causette," lent by Mme Vve Pissarro).
Paris. Galerie Manzi, Joyant. "Exposition rétrospective d'œuvres de Camille Pissarro (1830–1903)," January 26–February 14, 1914, no. 4 (as "La Causette").
Paris. Galerie Nunès & Fiquet. "La Collection de Madame Veuve C. Pissarro," May 20–June 20, 1921, no. 29 (as "La Causette").
Paris. Musée de l'Orangerie. "Centenaire de la naissance de Camille Pissarro," February–March 1930, no. 81 (lent by M. X . . .).
Paris. Galerie Beaux-Arts. "Seurat et ses amis: La suite de l'impressionnisme," December 1933–January 1934, no. 49 (lent by baron Maurice de Rothschild).
London. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Nineteenth Century Masterpieces," May 9–June 15, 1935, no. 29 (as "The Chatterer," lent by baron Maurice de Rothschild).
London. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Seurat and His Contemporaries," January 20–February 27, 1937, no. 26 (as "La causette").
Amsterdam. Stedelijk Museum. "Honderd Jaar Fransche Kunst," July 2–September 25, 1938, no. 195 (lent by baron Maurice de Rothschild, Paris).
Leeds. Temple Newsam. "French Paintings of the 18th and 19th Centuries," April 6–28, 1940, no. 24 (as "La Causette").
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Masterpieces of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Painting," April 25–May 24, 1959, unnumbered cat. (p. 12, as "La Causette," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Wrightsman).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 1–August 20, 1961, not in catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, not in catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Neo-Impressionism: The Circle of Paul Signac," October 1–December 31, 2001, no catalogue.
Camille Pissarro. Letter to M. Joseph [Durand-Ruel]. January 13, 1892 [published in Lionello Venturi, "Les archives de l'impressionnisme," vol. 2, Paris, 1939, p. 32], lists it as no. 11 and calls it his great work, but notes that he has not finished it yet; discusses the possibility of making new frames for the three principle paintings in the show, including this one.
Camille Pissarro. Letter to M. Durand-Ruel. January 19, 1892 [published in Lionello Venturi, "Les archives de l'impressionnisme," vol. 2, Paris, 1939, pp. 33–34], lists it as no. 11 in the list of works that will be at the February 1892 exhibition at Durand-Ruel.
Félix Fénéon. "Exposition Camille Pissarro." L'Art moderne [Brussels] (February 14, 1892), p. 55 [reprinted in Fénéon, "Œuvres plus que complètes," vol. 1, Geneva, 1970, p. 209].
Gustave Geffroy. "Chronique artistique. L'exposition de Camille Pissarro." La Justice (February 2, 1892), p. 1 [see Ref. Snollaerts 2005].
A. Andrei. "Les Petits salons. Camille Pissarro." La France nouvelle (February 23, 1892), p. 2 [see Ref. Snollaerts 2005].
Charles Saunier. "L'Art nouveau." La Revue indépendante 23 (April–June 1892), p. 38.
Henri Pellier. "Petits salons: Camille Pissarro." La Petite république (April 14, 1904), p. 3.
Théodore Duret. Histoire des peintres impressionistes. Paris, 1906, pp. 64–65.
J. B. M[anson]. "The Camille Pissarro Exhibition in Paris." Outlook (February 7, 1914), p. 171, misidentifies the figure at left as male.
Georges Lecomte. Camille Pissarro. Paris, 1922, ill. opp. p. 46.
Théodore Duret. Die Impressionisten. Berlin, 1923, p. 86, incorrectly dates it 1882.
Emil Waldmann. Die Kunst des Realismus und des Impressionismus im 19. Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1927, pp. 88, 468, ill.
Charles Kunstler. "Camille Pissarro (1830–1903)." La Renaissance no. 12 (December 1928), p. 505.
"Les grandes ventes prochaines: La collectin Camille Pissarro." Bulletin de l'art ancien et moderne no. 753 (December 1928), pp. 410, 412, ill., comments that it illustrates Pissarro's evolution away from the influence of older artists.
Charles Kunstler. "La collection Camille Pissarro." Le Figaro artistique no. 209 (November 29, 1928), p. 103, ill., observes that in it Pissarro returned to comma-like brushstrokes.
Maurice Monda. "Revue des ventes de décembre." Le Figaro artistique 6 (January 10, 1929), p. 221, notes that it sold for Fr 173,000 to Paul Rosenberg at the Pissarro sale on December 3, 1928.
Georges Pillement. "À l'exposition de Pissarro." La Revue française (March 16, 1930), ill. p. 259.
Charles Kunstler. "À propos de l'Exposition du Musée de l'Orangerie aux Tuileries: Le Centenaire de Camille Pissarro." L'Art vivant 6 (March 1, 1930), p. 189.
"Nineteenth-Century Masterpieces." Burlington Magazine 66 (June 1935), p. 297, ill. opp. p. 293.
Ludovic Rodo Pissarro and Lionello Venturi. Camille Pissarro, son art—son œuvre. reprint ed. 1989. Paris, 1939, vol. 1, pp. 61, 192, no. 792; vol. 2, pl. 163, no. 792.
Charles Kunstler. Pissarro: Cities and Landscapes. New York, 1967, p. 58.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Collection. Vol. 5, Paintings, Drawings. [New York], 1973, pp. 151–57, no. 17, ill. p. 153 (color), fig. 1 (detail), notes that it was probably begun in the summer, perahaps mid-July, of 1891, since the trees are in full leaf; comments that the setting is a field near Pissarro's house at Éragny, which frequently appears in the artist's other works; discusses the style and technique, noting that it is similar to "Haymakers Resting," which is signed and dated 1891 (McNay Art Institute, San Antonio; PV773).
R. A. Cecil. "The Wrightsman Collection." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), p. 518.
Christopher Lloyd. Pissarro. New York, 1979, pp. 8–9, colorpl. 32, remarks that it "epitomizes the change of emphasis that Pissarro brought to his treatment of the human figure during the 1880s," noting that now he is more sympathetic to the figures, the models are not generalized, and that their dress and actions are closely observed and recorded.
Richard R. Brettell and Christopher Lloyd. A Catalogue of the Drawings by Camille Pissarro in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Oxford, 1980, p. 141, reproduces a drawing in the Ashmolean's collection from the early 1880s, which Pissarro adapted ten years later for the background of this picture.
Christopher Lloyd. Camille Pissarro. New York, 1981, p. 113, ill.
Anne Schirrmeister. Camille Pissarro. New York, 1982, pp. 14–15, no. 12, ill. on cover (color) and colorpl. 15, remarks that this is one of Pissarro's largest and most ambitious works; notes that he never sold the painting, but bequeathed it to his wife, who kept it until her death.
Charles S. Moffett. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1985, pp. 92–93, ill. (color).
John House. "Camille Pissarro's "Seated Peasant Woman": The Rhetoric of Inexpressiveness." Essays in Honor of Paul Mellon: Collector and Benefactor. Ed. John Wilmerding. Washington, 1986, pp. 162–63, 167, 170 n. 21, fig. 4.
Richard Shiff. "The Work of Painting: Camille Pissarro and Symbolism." Apollo 136 (November 1992), pp. 309–10, fig. 2.
Martha Ward. Pissarro, Neo-Impressionism, and the Spaces of the Avant-Garde. Chicago, 1996, p. 245, fig. 11.3.
T. J. Clark. Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism. New Haven, 1999, pp. 54–56, 58–59, 62–71, 82, 85–90, 99, 104–5, 107, 110, 112, 114–15, 117, 121–22, 128, 132, 414 nn. 6, 12, pp. 419–20 n. 127, colorpls. 20, 31, 46 (overall and details), discusses the work in relation to the political climate at the time and Pissarro's anarchist and socialist views, seeing the effects of anarchist politics in this work; mentions the difficulties that Pissarro encountered in finishing it; comments on the technique, use of light, and the poses of the two women.
David S. Stern et al., ed. Impressionism to the Present: Camille Pissarro and His Descendants. Exh. cat., Museum of Art. Fort Lauderdale, 2000, pp. 14, 54, note that Christopher Lloyd considers it very possible that the seated woman is Eugenie Estruc, known as Nini, whose portrait Pissarro painted in 1884 (Richard Nathanson collection, London; PV654).
Richard Shone. The Janice H. Levin Collection of French Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2002, pp. 31–32, fig. 14, notes that the posture of the standing woman is similar to Pissarro's "Peasant Woman Digging" (Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, New York; PV618) of 1883.
Gary Tinterow and Asher Ethan Miller inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 426–31, no. 123, ill. (color).
Richard Shiff inCamille Pissarro. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales. Sydney, 2005, pp. 41, 43, fig. 18 (color).
Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts in Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts. Pissarro: Critical Catalogue of Paintings. Milan, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 30, 363, 366, 370, 372, 376, 378–81, 383, 392, 394, 423; vol. 3, pp. 524, 598, 600–602, 954, 958, no. 912, ill. (color), dates it 1891–92.
Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper. Christie's, New York. November 7, 2007, p. 38, under no. 126, fig. 1.
A drawing for the seated figure appeared in 1928 in the sale of Mme Pissarro's pictures (Pissarro and Venturi no. 1593). The field in the background, near the artist's house at Eragny, is seen from the same angle in two other pictures (PV590, 1377). Pissarro probably began this picture in the summer of 1891, but, possibly because of eye trouble, did not finish it until just before the retrospective exhibition of his work at Durand-Ruel in January 1892. He considered it one of the three most important of the fifty pictures he showed at the exhibition [see Ref. Pissarro 1892].
This is the last large canvas that Pissarro painted.