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Friday, January 13, 2017

The Pissarro Museum, St. Thomas, USVI.

Copyright, Jim Lane
My sister and I were left standing out on the sidewalk.
The museum shares its location with a hair salon and
an accounting service (which were also closed).
When my sister talked us into accompanying her and her husband on a Christmas cruise to the Eastern Caribbean this year (it was a very brief conversation), one of the stops was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). There I had hoped to visit the birthplace and childhood home of the French impressionist painter, Camille Pissarro (now turned into a museum). Yesterday (in the item just below) I told of our encounter with the ghost of Blackbeard, the pirate, and the bronze pirate sculptures of Richard Hallier. Today, let me continue with the rest of the story. Just down over a steep hill from the Hallier gallery is Pissarro's namesake museum. It's located on a thoroughfare they call "Main" Street (it's actually not the main street of the town). The town is called Charlotte Amalie, which is the main city on the main island of St. Thomas (people sometimes confuse the two).
The Pissarro Museum. It's not hard to find, merely
hard to get into.
The weather was warm and sunny. It was the day after Christmas. We weren't uncomfortable, but I would have hated to visit the place in mid-summer. After making a few local inquiries, we were directed to 14 Main Street (top) where the Pissarro family dry-goods store had been located in the mid 1800s. I was a little dismayed to find that, after our search, it was somewhat less than I'd expected. Moreover, I was really disappointed to find the place was closed. Their website notes that they're open seven days a week. Perhaps they were closed it being the day after Christmas. The photos which follow were "borrowed" from a visitor somewhat luckier than we. Perhaps we didn't miss much. The photos and the video (bottom) would suggest that the establishment is something of a souvenir shop with a museum attached.

The second floor location of the museum, where the
Pissarro family once literally lived "over the store."
Camille Pissarro, was born on the island of St. Thomas in 1830. At the time the islands were ruled by Denmark (don't ask, why Denmark? It's a long story). The building at 14 Main Street, once housed the family's dry-goods business. They lived in the flat upstairs. Several of Pissarro's Caribbean inspired works are on display at the gallery (no originals, however), along with works from about two dozen other (local) artists including Jenine Wesselman, Sylvia Kahn, Lee Coplea, and Jan Dunn. These contemporary works in oil, watercolor, gauche, rock, sculpture, and print, are available for sale (which says a great deal about the nature of the "museum." Pissarro lived in St. Thomas until age 12, when he went to a boarding school in Paris.
What we didn't see when we visited the Pissarro Museum.
Camille Pissarro, self-portrait,
1852, about as he appeared
when he depart for Paris.
Pissarro returned to St. Thomas around 1850. He joined the family business and painted in his free time. Pissarro was attracted to political anarchy, a trait which may have originated during his years on St. Thomas. In 1852, he traveled to Venezuela with the Danish artist, Fritz Melbye. Upon returning in 1855, Pissarro decided to forsake the dry-goods business in favor of be-coming an artist. Most of his St. Thomas paintings (below) are dated 1856. That was also the year he hop-ped a ship off the island and headed back to Paris. There he studied at various academic institutions including the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Suisse under a succession of masters. These included such nota-bles as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, and Charles-Fran-cois Daubigny. Corot is considered Pis-sarro's most important influence.

All works are by Pissarro and date from 1856, the year
he left St. Thomas to study art in Paris. (He never returned.)
Mountain Landscape at Saint Thomas, Antilles
(unfinished), 1856, Camille Pissarro, his final
St. Thomas painting.


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