The Red Roofs (1877) by Pissarro
Interpretation of Impressionist Landscape Picture

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The Red Roofs
By Camille Pissarro.
Regarded as one of the
greatest modern paintings of
the 19th century.

The Red Roofs (1877)


Analysis of The Red Roofs
Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscapes


Name: The Red Roofs (1877) (Toits rouges, Coin d'un Village, Hiver)
Artist: Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Landscape painting
Movement: French Impressionism
Location: Musee d'Orsay

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


See: How to Appreciate Art.


Arguably the most influential of the Impressionist painters because he helped and encouraged so many younger artists (notably Gauguin and Cezanne), the genial anarchist Camille Pissarro was a participant - along with Edouard Manet (1832-83), Gustave Courbet (1819-77), Cezanne (1839-1906), Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) and others - in the seminal Salon des Refusés held in 1863. An admirer of Jean-Francois Millet (1814-75) and Honore Daumier (1808-1879), he was also influenced by the Pointillism of Georges Seurat (1859-1891). When eye-trouble forced him to abandon plein-air painting, he went indoors and painted views from windows, including his memorable 14-work series of views of Boulevard Montmartre (1897-8), in all types of weather. Along with Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Alfred Sisley (1839-99), Pissarro formed a trio of artists who kept alive the flame of Impressionist landscape painting created outdoors. For background, see: Characteristics of Impressionism (1870-1930).

NOTE: For the full story behind French Impressionism and its differing styles, as well as the artists involved, see our 10-part series, beginning with: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

Analysis of The Red Roofs by Camille Pissarro

After the Franco-Prussian war, Pissarro only remained at Louveciennes for one more year before making up his mind to settle at Pontoise, where he remained for twelve years (1872-84) although he kept on his studio in Montmartre. He shared from then on the Impressionist theories but let Monet, haunted by water and the reflections made in it by the light, settle at Argenteuil, taking Sisley and Renoir (1841-1919) with him. He himself was closer in spirit to the earth and the peasants, and more attentive to constructive values in his painting. Cezanne (1839-1906), Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927), and later, Gauguin (1848-1903), were greatly attracted to him, testifying to his growing reputation as one of the best landscape artists in France.



Red Roofs depicts a group of houses and farm buildings on a hillside known as La Cote des Boeufs, near Pontoise. The subject of houses seen through trees was used by Pissarro from 1868 onwards. The clean construction of the houses is broken up by bare branches forming a kind of diaphanous tracery. Through this poetic screen, we see the solid mass of grouped buildings, their roofs bright and gay beneath the winter sun. The dominating hillside of the Hermitage is close at their elbow. Its crest is outlined against a narrow band of blue sky. This winter effect is achieved by a magnificent clarity of design, which is the difference between a picture by Pissarro and one by Monet on the same subject.

Neither human being nor animal draws the eye away from the principal subject. The sloping roofs, varying from red-orange to brown, seem to spread across the whole surface of the picture. Similar colour tones can be seen in the fields and plants in the foreground, as well as on the Cote St Denis in the background, while the thick impasto of the paint catches the light, giving the brushstrokes a sense of vibrancy, and conferring a wonderful intensity and feeling of movement on the surface of the composition.

The artist has built up the painting using many short brushstrokes, in a wide range of colours. From a distance, the colours harmonize, many of the individual brushstrokes disappear and the scene becomes wonderfully alive. A lovely illustration of Pissarro's preoccupation with recording the effects of colour and tone in nature, a theme central to Impressionism.

Before 1870 Pissarro had tended to work in fluid colours and half-impasto in the manner of Camille Corot (1796-1875). In the Pontoise period, he was more ready to use a mass of stipple worked over with a thicker brush. This technique he owed, doubtless, to the continued influence of Cezanne who left him at the beginning of 1874. Cezanne himself painted a similar and equally beautiful view of a house seen through a screen of trees, entitled The Orchard, Cote St Denis, at Pontoise (1877, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida), in which the houses and roofs are obscured behind a curtain of vegetation. See also a second similar work by Pissarro entitled: The Cote des Boeufs at L'Hermitage (1877, National Gallery, London).

Pissarro showed The Red Roofs at the third of the Impressionist Exhibitions, held in 1877. It was purchased by the artist and collector Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94) and catalogued with the title A Corner of the Village. Bequeathed by Caillebotte to the Louvre in 1894, it was moved to the Musee d'Orsay during the reorganization of 1978-86.

Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscapes

Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes (1873) by Alfred Sisley.
Musee d'Orsay.

Misty Morning (1874) by Alfred Sisley.
Musee d'Orsay.

Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877) by Renoir.
Musee d'Orsay.

Vegetable Garden with Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pontoise (1877) Pissarro.
Musee d'Orsay.

Snow at Louveciennes (1878) by Alfred Sisley.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Bridge at Maincy (1879) by Paul Cezanne.
Musee d'Orsay.

Mont Sainte-Victoire Paintings (1882-1906) by Paul Cezanne.
Various art museums.


• For an explanation of other Impressionist landscapes, see: Homepage.

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