Little Daubs Will Do You

"Impressionism to the Present: Camille Pissarro and His Descendants"

An extraordinary piece called Market at Pontoise (1895), unusually crowded with shoulder-to-shoulder people painted in bright, intense colors, prepares us for a shift in focus. The next gallery features a dozen uniformly fine paintings, most of them urban landscapes of the sort that preoccupied Pissarro just before and after the turn of the century, right on up to his death in 1903.

The show's organizers have hit on a simple but highly effective strategy for this gallery, which typically juxtaposes two views of a specific place side by side, thus highlighting Pissarro's fascination with the subtleties of light under different circumstances. There are two almost identical views of the Louvre, both from 1902, one set on a spring morning, the other in a muted, moodier winter mode.

Two takes on the Tuileries gardens, from 1900, offer similarly varied interpretations of their subject matter under different lighting conditions. An information panel informs us that Pissarro painted these pictures from an apartment he rented across from the gardens in the winters of 1899 and 1900. The geometry of the streets and fountains and gardens so fascinated him that he did a series of 14 each time he was there.

Avenue de l'Opra, Place du Thtre (1898), by the father of it all

This gallery also includes two slightly different views of the Pont Neuf, one from 1901, the other from 1902. The wide bridge, crowded with horse-drawn carts and clusters of people who are suggested by little daubs of paint, is viewed from an angle, with tall buildings looming in the background. Rounding out the cityscapes is Pissarro's justly famous Boulevard Montmartre: Winter Morning (1897), its sharply receding perspective drawing us deep into the image, with its tree-lined street bustling with carriages and pedestrians.

An adjacent gallery has nearly two dozen pieces by Pissarro's oldest son, Lucien, with whom he shared a close relationship and whose style greatly resembles his father's. A pair of watercolors shows a pronounced pointillist influence, and the lovely Rye From Cadborough, Sunset (1913) is a sort of variation on the elder Pissarro's country landscapes, with more-sharply defined contours and brighter colors. (Lucien moved to England in 1890, which accounts for the distinctly different feel of some of his landscapes.)

I wish I could muster more enthusiasm for the remainder of the exhibition, which is given over to the next three generations of Pissarros. But once you pass through that wide corridor connecting the main galleries to the smaller ones, there's really nothing to compare with what you've already seen.

There are half a dozen more or less realistic city scenes by Ludovic-Rodo, seven pieces by Georges Manzana, half a dozen by Paul-Émile, and five by Félix, Pissarro's remaining sons. Lucien's daughter Orovida weighs in with a pair of lackluster Asian-influenced silk paintings, both from 1927, and Georges' son Félix is represented by two agreeably moody landscapes from the 1950s.

Two of Paul-Émile's canvases -- contrasting views of the Orne River -- have pleasing echoes of his father's work, but the most bracing pieces are the ones that depart most dramatically from the elder Pissarro's style. They're four very large oils from the 1990s by Paul-Émile's son Hugues-Claude (whose daughter Lélia also has a quartet of thickly stippled landscapes in the show).

Hugues-Claude follows in the family tradition of painting city and country landscapes, but his technique is about as far as you can get from impressionism. And in his most striking piece here, The Kidd's Bouquet (1992), he applies brilliant red, yellow, and purple in thick, clumpy swaths of paint that recall the congested surfaces of Frank Auerbach's work.

It's no mystery why the curators were drawn to the idea of an exhibition covering four generations of Pissarros -- there's no comparable dynasty in art history -- although I can't help thinking that a slightly scaled-down version of this show might have been more forceful. Then again, Mae West was probably right: Too much of a good thing really can be wonderful.

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