Among many unforgettable people from the brush of the painter Camille Pissarro, the first to make an indelible impression is a 7-year-old boy, Felix.
One of Pissarro’s eight children, he is the subject of a birthday portrait near the entrance of the “Pissarro’s People,” an exhibition of more than 100 oil paintings and works on paper on view through January at the Legion of Honor.
Felix, with an upturned nose and long brown hair, wears a pink bow and a red beret and sits against a paisley-decorated wall in the background.
The shy, uncomfortable expression Pissarro captured on his face is striking, giving a clear, if polite, indication that posing for a portrait is not the best way for a child to spend his birthday.
Artist, father, psychologist — Pissarro put all that information into Felix’s portrait.
Not as famous as the leading artists of Impressionism, Pissarro, born in 1830 into a Sephardic Jewish family on the Danish colony of St. Thomas in the Caribbean (who never became a French citizen and died in 1903) nevertheless was one of the movement’s most important figures.
The oldest of the group, a father figure to its artists and mentor to Cézanne and Gauguin, Pissarro is the only artist to have shown his work at all eight Paris Impressionist exhibitions, from 1874 to 1886. He also inspired many younger artists, including California Impressionist Lucy Bacon.
Pissarro painted rural and urban French life, memorable landscapes in and around Pontoise, scenes from Montmartre, and portraits, which are emphasized at the Legion.
Besides the wonderfully intimate and tender pictures of family members, the exhibition includes paintings of maidservants, washerwomen and domestic and agricultural laborers.
Curated by Pissarro expert Richard R. Brettell and the Legion’s James Ganz, the show includes three of the artist’s four known self-portraits.
The subject of harvest is prominent, in “Haymakers, Evening, Éragny,” the “Apple Harvest” and as well as scenes of potato planting and everyday life at marketplaces.
One of a dozen similarly vibrant works, “The Marketplace” brings together broadly painted naturalism and the Impressionist palette.
More than other contemporary artists, Pissarro had a searing social consciousness, expressed in his humanity and concern about the underclass in a society, which exploded with the 1871 Paris Commune.
“Pisarro’s People” presents his collection of anarchist drawings, called “Turpitudes sociales” (social disgraces) in its first public showing. In it, Pissarro portrays horrible working conditions in factories, corruption of bankers, starvation, poverty and drunkenness. The series closes with a scene of workers’ insurrection.
IF YOU GO
Where: Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 100 34th Ave., San Francisco
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays- Sundays, closes Jan. 22
Tickets: $10 to $15
Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.famsf.org