In praise of Pissarro

In praise of Pissarro

Local artist to discuss ‘Father of Impressionism’

A self-portrait of Pissarro in 1873, when he was 43 years old
A self-portrait of Pissarro in 1873, when he was 43 years old

Once one of the real-life “mad men” who created such memorable ad campaigns as Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz” and Citibank’s “The Citi never sleeps,” Maurice Mahler is now retired. But you might not know it from his schedule.

An accomplished artist and art historian, he is the president of Monroe Township’s Congregation Beit Shalom, commissioner of his local fire district, and a board member of the Monroe Cultural Arts Commission. An adjunct faculty member for Rutgers University and Brookdale Community College, he is a frequent lecturer in Princeton, South Brunswick, the Monroe Township Library, and his own synagogue. 

He also is active in Hadassah Associates, a men’s group that supports the women’s organization, and, during the past six years, has designed stained-glass windows for many synagogues in New Jersey and New York.

On Feb. 23, Mahler will make his third appearance at the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County, introducing a film and discussing the life and work of the artist Camille Pissarro.

“Pissarro was a Jew — his full name was Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro — who had a tremendous influence on all of the younger painters of his time, especially the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists,” said Mahler.

Pissarro’s path to prominence wasn’t typical of 19th-century European artists, Mahler said. “He was born in 1830 on St. Thomas, then a possession of Denmark and now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands.” His father was a French-Jewish merchant and his mother a Creole, and Pissarro and his siblings were rejected by the local Jewish school and attended an all-black church school instead.

Mahler said his presentation would deal not only with the painter’s early life, but also the years after 1853, when he traveled to Europe and began to be recognized as the “Father of Impressionism.” Monet, with whom he sometimes painted, was seen as the “guiding force” behind the movement, while Pissarro was a “good counselor and appeaser,” said one critic.

“Pissarro is the only artist to have shown his work at all eight Paris Impressionist exhibitions, from 1874 to 1886,” said Mahler. “He served as a father figure not only to the Impressionists but to all four of the major Post-Impressionists, including Georges Seurat, Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin.”

The American impressionist Mary Cassatt, who studied with Pissarro in Paris, said he was such a good teacher that “he could have taught the stones to draw correctly.”

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