by Shirley Seaton, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 14 (2005)
The great French Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro painted seven views of Bedford Park and Stamford Brook during a visit to his son Lucien in 1897. These paintings were described in the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal, No 6, 1997 and it was a rare treat to see three of them in the ‘Pissarro in London’ exhibition at the National Gallery in 2003. But Camille wasn’t the only Pissarro to paint our area. Both Lucien, who lived in Stamford Brook for most of his life, and his younger brother Ludovic-Rodo, who lived in Bedford Park for several years, were artists who painted local scenes. This article discusses the brothers and their depictions of Chiswick.
Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944)
Lucien Pissarro, Camille’s eldest son, settled in England in 1890 at the age of twenty-seven. Two years later he married Esther Bensusan. In 1897 he came to live in Chiswick with his wife and young daughter, Orovida, first at 62 Bath Road on the border of Chiswick and Stamford Brook, moving in 1902 to the other end of Stamford Brook Common to the delightful Georgian cottage, The Brook, where he lived for over forty years, leaving London for the west country at the outbreak of World War II.
When Lucien first moved to Chiswick he suffered a severe stroke, and it was also during a period in which he did little painting, concentrating mainly on wood engraving and, together with Esther, printing his beautiful Eragny Press books (1894-1914).
He had studied under his father and was primarily a landscape painter. When he started to paint again in 1906 for exhibition with the New English Art Club and later with the Camden Town Group, he found inspiration in his frosty garden and Stamford Brook Common after a fall of snow. Further afield, he was drawn to the open vistas of Wormwood Scrubs and Acton, the golf course and railways (his father had painted the NSWJ railway from 62 Bath Road). Kew Gardens provided subjects for many later paintings; also the River Thames, from Richmond, Chiswick Mall and Hammersmith Mall. Many of these are atmospheric scenes, with subtle nuances of colour in frost, snow and sunsets. When his daughter had moved to the top floor flat at 26 Stamford Brook Avenue, with front windows overlooking Stamford Brook Common and the back windows looking out on The Brook garden, Lucien found he could paint here in greater comfort than standing at his easel in inclement weather. Lucien’s oil paintings of Chiswick/Stamford Brook are listed here.
Like his father, Lucien worked fastidiously from the ‘motif’. He never fully recovered from his stroke, was prone to bronchitis and continually suffered ill health. In October 1929, aged 66, Lucien wrote to his friend J B Manson, painter and Director of the Tate Gallery, ‘My dear old boy, …you see of late years I have been working in the South, besides I am getting too old to dare standing in the snow…’ From the mid 1920s, when financially possible, he spent winter months in the south of France.
Esther learnt to drive in 1926 and purchased the first of a series of second-hand, open-backed Fords and Fiats, in which she would drive him to his painting venues. The cars, all called ‘Lizzie’ or ‘The Old Lady’, spent much time in the garage for repairs. She was an eccentric rather than reckless driver, often miraculously escaping accidents. Their impact on the quiet west London roads has not been recorded, but in later years in Devon and Somerset it was said the villagers and children scattered for safety when they heard the cry: ‘Here comes Mrs Pissarro in her car’. Writing about Lucien in his 70s, his nephew, the painter John Bensusan-Butt, describes the sight of his formidable aunt at the wheel of her ancient open-backed Fiat, and Lucien, with his great Father Christmas beard, sitting beside her, muffled up to paint outdoors in his tweed cap and thick tweed overcoat.
In January 1936 in a letter to London Transport she states her car was stationary when ‘… on December 31st at about 3pm your omnibus number 17 struck my Fiat car near the Holland Park entrance to Addison Road and caused considerable damage… This accident has caused us the greatest inconvenience as I use my car chiefly to take my husband who is elderly and a landscape painter to his work and the delay has prevented his working at a picture from a friend’s window near the river.’ This time judgement was in her favour and London Transport paid the cost of repair.
Lucien was painting from the first floor bow window of Island House, Chiswick Mall which commands a fine view of the Thames and the Mall. The painting is Chiswick Mall, Mist and Sun, January 1936. It was praised for its luminosity when it was exhibited in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in 1937.
It is disappointing that so few of his paintings are on public display. Most recently, in December 2004, an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum included the oil paintings listed above in their collection. However, from time to time the paintings appear in the London salerooms, and are increasingly sought after. The 1911 painting of ‘The Brook, sunny weather’ (133) (used on the back cover of Journal 14) is currently on sale at Agnew’s, where it was shown at the Old Bond Street sale rooms. It is a delightful painting, the first of two similar scenes, the second painted in 1912 in ‘grey weather’. When they moved to The Brook in 1902 the garden was very neglected, but Esther was a keen gardener and tended it lovingly after a complete makeover carried out by Johnsons, landscape gardeners with nurseries at Bedford Park. Beyond the neat garden are the roofs of Stamford Brook Road and Goldhawk Road, with distant trees of Ravenscourt Park.
Ludovic-Rodo Pissarro (‘Rodo’) (1878-1952)
Lucien’s younger brother Ludovic-Rodo, lived in Bedford Park, at 3 Blenheim Road from 1919 to August 1923, after which he moved to France. He visited Lucien and painted here at earlier dates when he was living at Ashford, Middlesex and at Richmond.
Ludovic-Rodo, nicknamed Rodo, was the historian of the family, and is better known for the definitive catalogue of his father’s oil paintings, a project which took him 20 years. He had considerable artistic talent, particularly for caricature and humorous wood engravings. He too painted the railway at Acton (a watercolour) in 1906. He painted water-colours of Stamford Brook Road, Hammersmith Mall, The Bull’s Head pub at Strand on the Green and The Red Lion pub on Chiswick Mall (it became a private house in 1916), prior to 1914. During World War I he was unable to get an artist’s permit to allow him to paint outdoors. His etchings from these paintings were made about 1921-2. Among his paintings of London is a colourful oil of 4 Bedford Road, Bedford Park, first exhibited in 1921.
Letters, diaries and sketchbooks at the Pissarro Family Archive, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Country Life 1937 and 1977;
Lucien Pissarro by W S Meadmore 1962; Recollections of Lucien Pissarro in his Seventies by John Bensusan-Butt for Anthony d’Offay Lucien Pissarro Exhibition 1977; Pissarro in West London by Nicholas Reed, revised edition 1997.
Note: this article was added to the website in 2016 by which time more Pissarro paintings had come to light as a result of the Public Catalogue Foundation’s survey. These can be found by searching on the ArtUK website. Lucien’s view downstream from Chiswick Mall (1922) is in the William Morris Gallery collection and his picture, My Studio Garden
(1938) is in the Ashmolean Museum collection.
Shirley Seaton is a retired television researcher. She is co-author (with Reginald Coleman) of Stamford Brook: an affectionate portrait 1992, revised edition 1997, which includes illustrations of other local paintings by the Pissarros.