1877 (220 Kb); Oil on canvas, 54.5 x 65.6 cm (21 1/2 x 25 3/4"); Musee d'Orsay, Paris
This painting is certainly one of Pissarro's masterpieces and an illustration of some of the essential aims of Impressionism. It gives a dual sensation--of truth to a particular region and aspect of nature so exactly realized that the spectator seems transported to the scene; and of color that, while creating this effect, has a vibration and lyrical excitement of its own. Pissarro has been described as an unequal painter but if this was from one standpoint a shortcoming it had also an advantage in enabling him to attain exceptional heights from time to time. The low tones of his Orchard at Pontoise might lead one to think of him as one confined by a particular mood or capacity of vision yet in The Red Roofs, painted in the same year, the low tones are exchanged for brilliance of light, the grave utterance of the rural philosopher turns into song.
The effect can be appreciated without analysis but it is enlightening as to his method and general approach to consider the picture in relation to the advice he gave at a later date to a young painter, Louis Le Bail, whose unpublished notes of conversation with Pissarro were summarized by John Rewald in his History of Impressionism: `Do not define too closely the outlines of things; it is the brushstroke of the right value and color which should produce the drawing'. A look at this painting shows how Pissarro made this his own practice. `Don't work bit by bit but paint everything at once by placing tones everywhere with brushstrokes of the right color and value...' This has an important bearing on the color harmony so splendidly carried out here. Color is not localized but is picked up like a melody in various parts of the canvas--the blue of the sky in the blue of doors and shadows, the red of the roofs in field and foreground earth--so that all comes into happy relation.