Lélia Pissarro – or the power of tenderness
Joachim Pissarro


No concept of civilisation has ever existed without an inherent notion of femininity, tenderness, compassion, non-violence, or acceptable vulnerability….The first link between the child and civilisation is his relationship with his mother... Romain Gary, “La Nuit Sera Calme.”

Lélia and I grew up in the same house, in the care of our paternal grandparents, in a tiny Calvados farming hamlet. I remember, going back almost 48 years now, when I was a boy of four, the arrival of my grandmother carrying this new-born baby girl, so warmly awaited, my sister, my only sister, Lélia. It is probably the first strong memory I retain from my earliest childhood: I was taking my first steps towards understanding the intense inbuilt power of tenderness.
(Our brother Lionel was raised in our parents’ house. Yes, I am aware, all three of us are aware, of the somewhat unusual nature of the arrangement, as we would come to appreciate with the passing years.)

However, let us concentrate on our childhood. Behind our grandparents’ house was a very small track, barely broad enough for two people to pass by each other. It was known to us all as ‘le chemin du Pain de Sucre’ (The Sugarloaf Track). We pushed our way in through a bush and along a sort of overgrown tunnel. Ascending a little rise, we crossed over railway tracks which were only used for freight trains carrying iron ore. Once across the railway lines we were again swallowed up in the leafy tunnel, on a twisting, very steep, very narrow path, made all the more narrow because of the swathe carved out by the stream. For us there was only one stream in the world: the Sugarloaf stream, flowing down, in Winter and Spring with redoubled speed, coursing along the furrow carved deep into the narrow track, as if along an artery, bearing it towards the heart of the Orne – the sleepy river which flowed past the foot of the garden so lovingly tended by our grandfather.

Le chemin du Pain de Sucre, strewn with roots, hidden potholes, burrows, rocks, sprouting with broom, was a whole world to us. This was the track which led, after an hour’s stiff climb, to the top of the Sugarloaf hill and, wonder of wonders, a vantage point looking down over the expanse of the vast river Orne, slow yet inexorable, imprinted as firmly in our DNA as it is deep in the heart of Normandy.

Why this detour along le chemin du Pain de Sucre in order to speak of Lélia?
Quite simply, because this Pain de Sucre, this world of our infancy, is the natural embodiment of the powerful tenderness brought home to me when I stand before Lélia’s paintings.
In this sense, I consider myself an extremely privileged viewer of Lélia’s work: her works make me happy. Through them, as through le chemin du Pain de Sucre, and struck again by magic, childhood is restored and an immense expanse of spacescape unfolds in front of my gaze.