Lucien Pissarro in England: The Eragny Press 1895–1914
By Jon Whiteley, Colin Harrison and Simon Shorvon (Ashmolean Museum, $25)
Sons of famous fathers have a hard time.
Typically the old lion cuffs the cub for daring to innovate, but in the case of Lucien Pissarro (1863–1944) the problem was just the opposite: His father, Camille, the West Indies-born Franco-Jewish Impressionist, repeatedly scolded him for being old-fashioned.
Lucien was already an accomplished pointillist painter when he left France for London, fell under the sway of the Arts and Crafts movement and became passionately interested in the making of limited-edition illustrated books. Camille, who disliked what he saw as the stiffness, solemnity and imitativeness of English art, warned his son against its influence.
But Lucien was in no danger of becoming stiff and solemn, and his deepest desire was to find a way to import his father’s fresh, slightly naïve style into the woodcut medium so that it could be used to illustrate books. With the productions of the Eragny Press, which he operated with his wife, Esther, he succeeded.
Of all the so-called private presses that flourished in England during the 1890s and up to World War I, Eragny (named for the town in Normandy where the Pissarro family lived) achieved the most harmonious union of typography and imagery. This volume beautifully reproduces a generous selection of examples of the press’ work, culled from the Ashmolean’s collection (shown there in a recent exhibition), plus Eragny ephemera, related material pertaining to other presses, and relevant drawings and paintings by both Lucien and Camille.
The indefatigable Lucien designed his own font, called Brook, made the woodcuts and operated the printing press with his own hands, while struggling with ill health and lack of capital. Unfortunately, the Pissarros never achieved anything remotely resembling financial success and were only able to publish a relatively small number of titles, but Eragny earned a special place on the shelves of biblio-history.