Five Generations of Pissarro Art | St James's London

Art & Theatre

Five Generations of Pissarro Art

Explore the gallery that keeps it in the family.

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The unmissable Stern Pissarro Gallery, clad in bronze anodised aluminium, first opened its doors in 1964. The two-floor space specialises in Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary works and is co-owned by David Stern and Lélia Pissarro, great- granddaughter of Danish-French impressionist Camille Pissarro.

Most significantly, the iconic St James’s gallery presents the world’s strongest collection of Pissarro family works, now spanning five generations. Lélia’s family tree is saturated with artists, art dealers and historians. With nineteen painters in her clan, it seems permissible to claim that an aptitude, or at the least deep appreciation, for art runs throughout the Pissarro bloodline.

“I feel I need another life to really absorb the lessons I can learn from this family,” says Lélia, who first picked up a paintbrush when she was three, under the guidance of her grandfather, Paulémile Pissarro. “I was painting with him every day,” she says, “on his boat, in his studio, we had such fun.” In these formative years, Lélia maintains that it wasn’t necessarily that her grandfather showed her how to draw, but rather, “he taught me how to look, how to witness the change in colours that come at different times of the day and months of the year.”

Paulémile nurtured Lélia’s artistic eye, teaching her “to see the things that most people don’t see. I am privileged to have been taught this by my grandfather.” This ability to notice tones and colours, perceiving the beauty in the complexities around her wasn’t something that Lélia intended to keep to herself.

“If you capture the sight in front of you on paper, and people see that you have done this, it creates a contagious form of happiness. If you can then pass this on to someone else - teaching them, through your words, how to create – watching the pleasure on their face when they do so, it doesn’t get better than that. It is orgasmic.”

As such, the moment Lélia graduated from university, she became an art teacher and has continued teaching alongside her own artistic pursuits. Of Lélia and David’s three children the middle child, Lyora is, like her mother, an artist. “Every child starts painting, everyone gets their work put on the fridge and marvelled at by impressed-sounding parents,” says Lélia, “our home has always been a working space, every room is a studio, so it was always accessible for all of the children. When they got to a certain age, they all stopped, or rather all but Lyora.” While aware that she inevitably influenced her daughter in her formative years, Lyora swiftly separated and began to define her own style.

“She is everything I always wanted to be as an artist,” says Lélia, “she’s wild, and uninhibited by ‘the rules of art’, regarding it as her right to create whatever she wants.” This style is very different to Lélia’s father (Hugues-Claude), who was meticulous in his artistic practice. “My father would tell me that I had made a mistake. I would agree and look to correct it. For Lyora, there is no such thing as a mistake, her art is her freedom and this is what she continues to teach me.”

With such a vast network of artists stemming from Camille Pissarro, Lélia regards her familial influences in two halves: “while the older generation taught us the fundamentals, the younger generation liberate us from what we have been taught.”