Tag Archives: Paris

Jew of the Week: Camille Pissarro

The First Impressionist

Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was born on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas to a Sephardic Jewish family of Portuguese and French ancestry. Pissarro’s father sent him to a Paris boarding school when he was 12, and it was there that he was first exposed to art, learning to paint and draw. Pissarro returned to St. Thomas at 17 to work in his father’s business, and would spend every spare moment painting. At 21, he became a professional artist and moved to Venezuela, then settled in Paris four years later. There, he apprentice under some of the great painters of the time, including Melbye and Corot. Unlike them, Pissarro wished to paint realistic scenes, and focused on capturing natural landscapes and village life. During this time he met fellow young realists like Monet and Cézanne. Soon, Pissarro was the most famous of them all, with one critic of the day describing him as being able to paint “the smell of the earth”, and another ranking him among the “three or four true painters” of the time. During the Franco-Prussian War, Pissarro lived in a village near London and experimented with a new style that would later be called Impressionism. Upon returning to France years later, Pissarro found that only 40 of his paintings survived the war out of a total 1,500 – twenty years worth of art. Frustrated by the Paris Salon that set standards in art and alone determined whose work could be exhibited, Pissarro decided to start a new art society. He recruited fifteen fellow painters to do so. The others would see him as a father figure, especially because of his long, grey beard (despite being as young as they were). He was described as having the “look of an ancestor who remained a young man”. In 1874, the new society held their first exhibit to display their new form of Impressionist art. For several years afterwards, Impressionism was a very controversial style, with critics either absolutely loving it or hating it. Pissarro would later be credited as “the first Impressionist”. Meanwhile, he became a hero for all young painters for taking a stand against the Salon. Pissarro left the Impressionist fold shorty after, and began to study under painters of the pointillist style. He would go on to fuse the two styles into Neo-Impressionism. By this point, Pissarro was seen as perhaps the most versatile painter in the world, with an “extraordinary capacity to change his art”. In 1884, he took a young Vincent van Gogh as an apprentice. Pissarro continued to paint until the last days of his life, despite a chronic eye infection that weakened his vision, and the persistent financial struggles he faced his entire life. Pissarro was known for his youthful energy, his warmth, humility, wisdom, and gracefulness. Cézanne considered him like a father, and said of Pissarro that he was “a little like the good Lord.” While his works didn’t sell so well in his own lifetime, they are among the most coveted in the world today. One of his paintings was auctioned off for a whopping £19.9 million in 2014. Four of Pissarro’s seven children became noted painters of their own, as are a number of his great-great-grandchildren today.

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Words of the Week

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.
– Paul Hawken

Some of Pissarro’s most famous painting, clockwise from top left: Entrée du village de Voisins (1872), La Récolte des Foins, Eragny (1887), Pont Boieldieu in Rouen, Rainy Weather (1896), Le Boulevard de Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps (1897) – which sold for £19.9 million.

Jew of the Week: André Citroën

The Man Who Made the Citroën Car and Helped Win World War I

As a child, André Citroën was inspired by the Eiffel Tower. He lived to see his name displayed on it. This early “billboard” marketing technique is still a Guinness World Record for largest advertising sign.

André-Gustave Citroën (1878-1935) was born in Paris to a Dutch-Jewish father and Polish-Jewish mother. The last name “Citroën” comes from his grandfather, who sold fruit for a living in the Netherlands and was known as Limoenman, so his son made the family last name Citroen, which means “lemon”. As a child, Citroën was inspired by the Eiffel Tower and by the works of Jules Verne and dreamed of becoming an engineer. After graduating with an engineering degree, Citroën went on a trip to Poland to see his mother’s birthplace. There, he saw a carpenter working with a gear that had a “fish bone” structure. Citroën realized that such gears could be used in automobiles to make them quieter and more efficient. He bought the patent from the carpenter, then tweaked the designs until he came up with the automotive double helical gear. The Mors auto company successfully integrated these gears to make better cars, and by 1906 Citroën was the company’s director. With the outbreak of World War I, factories were being converted to produce weapons, and Citroën soon became world-renowned for increasing factory productivity. He took charge of fellow car-maker Renault’s large plant, now having its 35,000 employees making armaments. Citroën’s work played a key role in ensuring the Allies were well-armed and helping them win the war. Following the war, Citroën founded his own Citroën automobile company in 1919. Within just a dozen years, it became the world’s fourth largest car manufacturer. The company was most famous for its executive Traction Avant model, which pioneered a number of revolutionary features including independent suspensions on all four wheels and front-wheel drive. Investing so much money into research and development ultimately drove the company to bankruptcy and it was bought out by its tire maker Michelin. Citroën died the following year from cancer. He was buried in Paris’ famous Montparnasse Cemetery, with a traditional Jewish ceremony presided by Paris’ chief rabbi. A number of streets and parks in the city are named after him, and in 1998 Citroën was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, his company retained his original vision, and continued to pioneer many new technologies (like modern disc brakes, self-leveling suspensions, and swiveling headlights), becoming one of the most iconic car brands in the world.

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Words of the Week

If someone says,“I have worked hard, and I have not been successful,” don’t believe him. If someone says,“I have not worked hard and I have been successful,” don’t believe him. If someone says,“I have worked hard and I have been successful,” believe him!
– Talmud (Megillah 6b)

The double helical gear inspired the Citroën logo.