Fox Hill, Upper Norwood by Camille Pissarro at the National Gallery, London

Welcome to Art, Culture & Books with me Anthony King. Today I’ll be taking you to see a wonderful 1870 oil on canvas painting by one of my favourite artists, Camille Pissarro called ‘Fox Hill, Upper Norwood’ which you’ll find at my local gallery, the National Gallery in London. This painting is in a corner in an odd position and is overlooked by many.

Camille Pissarro, the Danish-French painter, was born on July 10, 1830, in Charlotte Amalie, U.S. Virgin Islands, and died on November 13, 1903, in Paris, France. Wondering why he was in London? It turns out he painted there too. One of the 12 paintings he did in London happened during the Franco-Prussian war between late 1870 and mid-1871. When the Prussians invaded Paris in September 1870 and took over his house, Pissarro and his family moved to London, where his mother and brother were already living.

They got there in early December 1870 and stayed for a bit in the south London village known as Lower Norwood before moving to Upper Norwood (they merged 15 years later). This part of south London was changing a lot, with villages and the surrounding countryside becoming part of the growing suburbs. All the paintings Pissarro did in London show places near where he stayed, but each one shows a different aspect of the city.

According to the National Gallery, the winter of 1870–1 was really cold, so Pissarro could keep painting the kind of winter landscapes he had done in France in the winter of 1868–9. Fox Hill, Upper Norwood, is maybe the first picture he painted in London. It looks like he painted it quickly on the spot, with his easel in the middle of the winding road as he looked up and westward towards Fox Hill. But he actually finished it in several steps. After sketching out the basic shapes of the picture, Pissarro worked quickly and energetically, blending colours and filling in specific areas like the leaves using a wet-in-wet technique. Some details, like the man, were only added after the first layers of paint had dried.

By Anthony King (c)