Camille Pissarro

by Joachim Pissarro.
Abrams, 310 pages, $67.50 until 1/1/94, $75.00 thereafter.
The author is a great-grandson of the painter considered by many to have been the real originator of the Impressionist school. He is also an art historian and concentrates on Pissarro the painter, paying minimal attention to other aspects of his subject’s life. Politically, however, Pissarro was sympathetic to anarchism, if only as a theory (bomb throwing horrified him), and in his work that cast of mind led to a demand for absolute freedom. He abhorred “any art whose function is to deliver a message, to render or express an idea, to arouse a sentiment, or to tell a story.”That noncommitment may explain why, for all the skill and visual beauty of his paintings. Pissarro was never as successful in his own time as some of his less austere contemporaries. The book’s illustrations are lavish and include many works not otherwise available for viewing. No question, he was a superb painter of what he chose to see. The observer can make his own guess as to why Pissarro chose to see it.