|Camille Pissaro, Factory at Pontoise,1873|
Impressionists, as landscape painters were engaged differently with nature and took different approaches to their depictions. While Monet attained his goal of depicting the effects of color and light in unified compositions by editing and idealizing the landscape, Pissaro was concerned with portraying nature realistically, without artifice or grandeur. Most Impressionists' work had an ephemeral quality to it but Pissaro's landscapes were solid and seated, they demanded the viewer to stop and take a long look.
Pissaro achieved greater solidness in Factory at Pontoise by using broad and heavy, horizontally oriented brush strokes. His solid lines as opposed to the broken, small brush strokes of Monet, helped to ground his compositions and build what Emile Zola referred to as a 'wall of nature'. What is interesting in this painting is the subject portrayed in this 'wall of nature.'
Knowing Pissaro was an anarchist and egalitarian, who believed in rural, agrarian communities, it is hard to figure out the significance of such an obvious symbol of capitalism, the factory, portrayed almost like a portrait in his landscape Factory Near Pontoise. Pissaro's favorite subject was the peasant and typically his work didn't have any modernity or industry in it. Plus, here, Pissaro has not even bothered to edit or idealize the unpleasant aspects of a factory, like the black smoke emanating from the smoke stacks into the clear blue sky. He paints a realistic depiction of a factory sitting in the middle of his landscape blended perfectly with its natural surroundings. Since he liked to portray nature as it sat before him, we can conclude that he must have seen the factory as part of nature as well.
Impressionists all depicted modernity in their own way within their own vision. For someone like Pissaro who in his political beliefs and visual presentations chose a naturalistic approach to the depiction of peasants instead of the byproducts of capitalism, Factory Near Pontoise stands in ambiguity. We are not sure if this is a criticism or a celebration of industry but the commanding presence and the appeal of the factory as a motif is indisputable.
1. Mary Tompkins Lewis, Critical Readings in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, (John House, Framing the Landscape) University of California Press, 2007. 80-81