Self-Portrait, 1903 by Camille Pissarro

Self-Portrait, 1903 by Camille Pissarro
Courtesy of www.diego-velazquez.org

Even in the last years of his life Pissarro never lost the impetus to work. "Work is a wonderful regulator of mind and body. In the joy of working, I forget all sorrow, grief,bitterness, I even ignore them," he said. So for this dignified self-portrait, which turned out to be his last, it is appropriate that he shows himself seated at the window of his Paris studio at 28 Place Dauphine, behind him the busy streets of the city which inspired the paintings of his last years.

In October 1898 Pissarro travelled to Amsterdam, where he viewed the Rembrandt exhibition. It is possible that he drew inspiration from the self-portraits of the aging artist, particularly in the attitude of the sitter, who seeks the attention of the viewer but at the same time remains aloof. Pissarro painted three self-portraits in these last years, and in addition was sculpted by the dentist-sculptor Paulin, and it is tempting to believe that he was motivated by similar feelings to those of Rembrandt's dignified elderly sitter Jacob Trip, who had his portrait painted at least six times, it is thought in an effort to provide as many as possible of his twelve children with something to remember him by.

Pissarro appears a little frail in this last portrait, but the glint in his eye is evidence of his unquenchable spirit. Here we see Pissarro the patriarch, as perhaps he wished his children to remember him: upright with a steady look, his white beard flowing over his chest.