Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), The Red House, 1873, oil on canvas, 57.8 x 71.1 cm, Portland Art Museum.
Théodore Duret, in Les Peintres impressionists published in 1878, explained the Impressionists’ use of bright, unbroken colours as a function of sunlight that one could easily observe while taking a walk outside: ‘if you walk along the banks of the Seine – at Asnières for example – in a single glance you will be able to see the red roof and brilliantly white fence of a cottage, the pale green of a poplar, the yellow road, and the blue river. In the summer, at noon, all the colours will seem raw, intense, impossible to tone down, or enveloped by an encompassing semitint.’
Camille Pissarro’s The Red House seems a perfect example of Duret’s description, as both the front and the side of the red house placed diagonally on the left of the composition can be seen simultaneously. Sunlight hits red and white surface of the house, making the colours shine that is accentuated in comparison to the muted, darker tone of the shaded side. The expansive sky and white clouds idling above intensify this play of colours.
This composition is very similar to a work by Claude Monet from the same year – Houses at Argenteuil – that features a group of houses on a cloudy day. While Pissarro’s work is an exercise in mass and volume, Monet focuses on the dramatic light in the sky and shadows of clouds that fall on the houses. KR