Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944), Willows at Eragny

Artist: Lucien Pissarro 1863-1944

Title: Willows at Eregny

Date: c.1885

Medium: coloured crayons, pastel

University of Melbourne Special Collections, Baillieu Library, Melbourne, Australia

EMu user since 2007

KE Client since 1988

Lucien Pissarro, Willows at EragnyLucien Pissarro was born in Paris, the eldest son of well-known  Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. He studied landscape painting under his father, developing a distinctive “pastoral” style based on accurate drawing and subtle colour. However, Lucien found it difficult to earn a living as a painter and with the encouragement of his father turned his hand to the decorative arts. He took up wood engraving, and learned the technique of chromolithography, and soon found employment with contemporary French and English journals.

In 1890 Lucien moved to London, where he became involved in the Art and Craft movement. Introduced to the craft of book design, illustration and production and inspired by the Private Press movement, Lucien founded the Eragny Press in 1894. The Press was named after the Normandy village, Eragny-sur-Epte, which his family had moved to ten years earlier, and from where this sketch originates. Lucien printed his first books at the Vale Press, but after learning how to print on a hand-press – and designing his own typeface, which he named “Brook” – he set up his own press in Hammersmith. Between 1903 and 1914 Lucien and his wife Esther (nee Bensusan) published 32 books, with Esther taking over the running of the press after Lucien suffered a stroke. While Esther was never given responsibility for the design of the books, she learned the craft of wood engraving, to assist with borders and letters, and printing on a hand-press. After Lucien’s recovery Esther continued to work at the Press, leaving Lucien free to concentrate on mixing the printing inks required to give the subtle, delicate colours for which the Press is so famous.

The onset of war in 1914 signalled the end of the Press. Paper, imported from France, was difficult to source, and wealthy clients scarce. As well, Lucien’s eyesight was failing, making it more difficult to cut the delicate wood engravings. Lucien returned to his painting. He developed a distinctive technique of blending French and English traditions, and in the years that followed the Press’ closure, until the end of his life, Lucien’s skill developed, his work distinctive by its delicate perceptiveness and gentle candour.

Acknowledgements:  Special Collections, Baillieu Library, The University of Melbourne