Camille Pissarro was one of the leading figures of the French Impressionist movement. He took part in the first Impressionist show in 1874 and was the only member to show his work in all eight exhibitions organized by the group. Pissarro was a modest and generous man who exerted a strong influence on the next generation of painters. He was, in Cézanne’s words, “a man to consult, and something like the good Lord.”
This crisply observed landscape, with a commuter train puffing along in the middle distance, depicts the suburban neighborhood near Lower Norwood (West Dulwich), south of London, where the forty-year-old Pissarro, his companion Julie Vellay, and their two children came to live in December 1870. The vantage point is just north of Sydenham Hill Station, looking toward West Norwood Cemetery. Pissarro’s decision to relocate from France was made in concert with his mother and his brother, all realizing the need to escape the chaos resulting from the Prussian army’s ongoing siege of Paris. Their friends the Monets had been in London since early October, part of a colony of French exiles. In London, Pissarro and Monet went to the museums and studied works by Constable and Turner, whose pioneering, freshly observed landscape paintings had paved the way for French Impressionism.
Judging from the absence of green foliage, the Kimbell painting was executed in early spring. An inscription on the stretcher reads: “to my wife . . . C. Pissarro,” suggesting that it was a wedding gift. Pissarro and Julie Vellay married on 14 June 1871, just before returning to France.