Bergère rentrant des moutons (Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep), 1886
Oil on canvas
18 1/4 x 15 in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
In the studio of Armand Guillaumin in 1885, Camille Pissarro met Paul Signac, who in turn introduced Pissarro to Georges Seurat (1859-1891). Signac and Seurat were interested in developing a new, scientific approach to painting which was based on the rules of color-contrasts as laid out by Eugène Chevreul, the American Ogden Rood, and others. Pissarro, the oldest of the Impressionists, had been questioning the tenets of Impressionism and banded with these young avant-garde painters to form a new movement, with Seurat as its leader, which would soon be labelled Neo-Impressionism. At the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition, held in 1886–the year of the present work–the Neo-Impressionists exhibited together in a separate room. (The centerpiece of this room was Seurat’s famous Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, now at the Art Institute of Chicago.)
In a letter to his dealer, Pissarro summarized the goals of Neo-Impressionism, which is characterized by the technique of Pointillism: "To seek a modern synthesis of methods based on science... To substitute optical mixture for mixture of pigments. In other words: the breaking up of tones into their constituents. For optical mixture stirs up more intense luminosities than does mixture of pigments." Thus, in separating color into its basic components of small brushstrokes (or dots), and juxtaposing them with their complements, the Neo-Impressionists hoped that their paintings would achieve greater brilliance. Neo-Impressionism also sought to replace the spontaneity of Impressionism with a greater sense of permanence.
The present work is an early example of Pissarro's practice of Neo-Impressionism–note the many flecks (and larger blocks) of contrasting colors. Neo-Impressionism would interest the artist for the next few years, even though his works rarely display a pure form of Pointillism. Compare, for example, Bergère rentrant des moutons with Signac's Coast Scene.
A charcoal sketch for this painting is owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Before his conversion to Neo-Impressionism, Pissarro had depicted the same farm buildings, near his home in Eragny-sur-Epte in Normandy.