Is there a link between Danish Golden Age painting and French Impressionism? Marking the centenary of the sale of the Danish West Indies, Ordrupgaard is highlighting the encounter between the Danish Golden Age painter Fritz Melbye and the later ‘father’ of French Impressionism, Camille Pissarro, on the island of St. Thomas. The exhibition Pissarro. A Meeting on St. Thomas presents new historical material that will radically challenge most people’s ideas of the birth of Impressionism.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) is known as one of the most important figures in French Impressionism, but few people know that a Danish Golden Age painter played an important role in the origins of the Impressionist movement. Through the exhibition Pissarro. A meeting on St. Thomas, Ordrupgaard tells the story of Pissarro’s early years, and of how the Danish Golden Age painter Fritz Melbye (1826-1869) came to play a crucial role in Pissarro’s life and art.
A Dane in the West Indies
Camille Pissarro grew up as a Danish citizen on the island of St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies and around the year 1850, Fritz Melbye arrived in St. Thomas. Melbye was a marine and landscape painter, and was visiting the New World to seek inspiration. The two young artists became friends, and soon began working together. They left the Danish West Indies together in 1853 and travelled to Caracas in Venezuela, where they established a joint studio.
An equal partnership
In Caracas the two artists worked closely together, and the four-year older Melbye exerted a great influence on Pissarro, who was then just 22. Their collaboration provided a counterpoint to the more traditional ‘teacher-pupil’ relationships of the day, as Melbye was more of a mentor than a master to Pissarro. The partnership between Pissarro and Melbye in the Danish West Indies and Venezuela lasted for two years. Afterwards Pissarro set off for Europe and the adventurous Melbye remained in the New World. They subsequently lost contact but Pissarro brought the experiences gained from his ‘Danish’ apprenticeship with him to Europe.
The father of Impressionism
In Paris, Camille Pissarro became a key figure in one of art history’s most ground-breaking innovations – Impressionism. The special form of artistic collaboration that, through Melbye, he had inherited from Danish Golden Age art was continued in his work with younger colleagues – such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat. His friendship and equal partnership with Melbye thus came to play a vital role in Pissarro’s artistic development.
Pissarro. A meeting on St. Thomas presents an extensive number of early works by Pissarro and Melbye, painted during their years together in the Danish West Indies and Venezuela. With paintings, sketches and drawings loaned from museums and collections around the world, the exhibition shows how Pissarro built upon his early years of learning with Melbye as his mentor, and how he applied these lessons in Impressionism.
Pissarro for children
As part of the exhibition Pissarro. A Meeting on St. Thomas, children and young people can accompany Pissarro and Melbye on a voyage of discovery in an exciting children’s universe, based on the two artists’ many pictures of the Caribbean jungle. The children’s area has been created by set designer Nikolaj Danielsen, known for his TV Christmas series The Other World, in which he created a lifelike adventure universe that included the dwarves’ house from Snow White and the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel. The exhibition’s children’s area is part of Ordrupgaard’s new concept, in which famous artists are reinterpreted in a living, sensory universe. The children’s area follows in the wake of the experiential universe Monet’s Magical Garden from the exhibition Monet. Beyond Impressionism and Alexander Reichstein’s installation At Home from 2014, where visitors could explore the Swedish artist home of Carl and Karin Larsson.