Camille Pissarro, a French Pointillist/Impressionist Painter, was born in 1830 in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. His family were Sephardic Jews who had been prohibited from practicing their religion and forced to convert to Christianity rather than suffer at the hands of the Inquisition. Since his parents would not give him permission to devote his life to painting, he left home in 1852 and traveled to Venezuela with the Danish artist Fritz Melbye. Three years later, he left Venezuela for Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Suisse.
A few years after he arrived in Paris, his parents joined him there with a maidservant from Burgundy who became his life long companion and eventually his wife – Julie Vellay. He and Julie had eight children, one of whom died at birth and a daughter who died at age nine. All of his surviving children became painters.
Camille Pissarro was one of the original circle of painters who became known as the Impressionists. This term came to be associated with the work of a diverse group of artists who shared a desire for artistic independence and an allegiance to modern expression. The group included Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro.
Of all of these artists, Pissarro remained the most experimental, always open to new influences and always supportive of young, struggling artists such as Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat. Pissarro was especially regarded by other painters as a teacher. He became the center of a group of painters who respected his art and turned to him for inspiration. Renoir, Monet, Degas and Cezanne were the nucleus of this group.
Pissarro had a passionate disdain for the Salons and refused to exhibit at them. He and Degas were alone in their unwavering defiance of the Salons. Their mutual admiration was based on a kinship of ethical as well as aesthetical concerns. Pissarro quickly became famous for his plein air technique – painting in the open air.
It was only during the year before he died that Camille Pissarro finally attained the respectability that had eluded him for most of his life. His paintings were starting to auction at very high prices and a new generation of artists admired his work. His later work displays an empathy for peasants and laborers. Shortly after his death in Paris in 1903, some of his paintings were selling in the range of $2-$4 million.