Friday, February 26, 2016


February 25, 1841. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was a French artist who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. As a celebrator of beauty, and especially feminine sensuality, it has been said that "Renoir is the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau." In this image: A visitor looks at the 1874 painting 'La Loge (The Theatre Box)', right, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir on display in an exhibition 'Renoir at the Theatre : Looking at 'La Loge' at the Courtauld Gallery in London, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008. The exhibition for the first time brings together 'La Loge' with Renoir's other treatments of the subject and loge paintings by his contemporaries. On the left is a small version of the same painting recently bought by Diane B. Wilsey of U.S. in an auction at Sotheby's for three times its pre-sale estimated.

 Le Moulin de la Galette, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

 "Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Monet worked closely together during the late 1860s, painting similar scenes of popular river resorts and views of a bustling Paris. Renoir was by nature more solid than Monet, and while Monet fixed his attentions on the ever-changing patterns of nature, Renoir was particularly entranced by people and often painted friends and lovers. His early work has a quivering brightness that is gloriously satisfying and fully responsive to what he is painting, as well as to the effects of the light.

"Renoir seems to have had the enviable ability to see anything as potentially of interest. More than any of the Impressionists, he found beauty and charm in the modern sights of Paris. He does not go deep into the substance of what he sees but seizes upon its appearance, grasping its generalities, which then enables the spectator to respond with immediate pleasure. "Pleasure" may be decried by the puritanical instinct within us all, but it is surely the necessary enhancer that life needs. It also signifies a change from Realism: the Impressionists' paintings have none of the labored toll of Millet's peasants, for example. Instead they depict delightful, intimate scenes of the French middle class at leisure in the country or at cafes and concerts in Paris. Renoir always took a simple pleasure in whatever met his good-humored attention, but he refused to let what he saw dominate what he wanted to paint. Again he deliberately sets out to give the impression, the sensation of something, its generalities, its glancing life. Maybe, ideally, everything is worthy of attentive scrutiny, but in practice there is no time. We remember only what takes our immediate notice as we move along.

"In The Boating Party Lunch, a group of Renoir's friends are enjoying that supreme delight of the working man and woman, a day out. Renoir shows us interrelationships: notice the young man intent upon the girl at the right chatting, while the girl at the left is occupied with her puppy. But notice too the loneliness, however relaxed, that can be part of anyone's experience at a lunch party. The man behind the girl and her dog is lost in a world of his own, yet we cannot but believe that his reverie is a happy one. The delightful debris of the meal, the charm of the young people, the hazy brightness of the world outside the awning - all communicates an earthly vision of paradise." Sister Wendy

 "One of Renoir's early portraits, A Girl with a Watering Can, has all the tender charm of its subject, delicately unemphasized, not sentimentalized, but clearly relished. Renoir stoops down to the child's height so that we look at her world from her own altitude. This, he hints, is the world that the little one sees - not the actual garden that adults see today, but the nostalgic garden that they remember from their childhood. The child is sweetly aware of her central importance. Solid little girl though she is, she presents herself with the fragile charm of the flowers. Her sturdy little feet in their sensible boots are somehow planted in the garden, and the lace of her dress has a floral rightness; she also is decorative. With the greatest skill, Renoir shows the child, not amid the actual flowers and lawns, but on the path. It leads away, out of the picture, into the unknown future when she will longer be part of the garden but an onlooker, an adult, who will enjoy only her memories of the present now depicted."

- Text from "Sister Wendy's Story of Painting", by Wendy Beckett

Renoir: Lately it's become trendy to disparage and insult Renoir for being too "Pretty." What is wrong with beauty? Doesn't the world have enough ugliness? Their reasons for hating Renoir seem ignorant and stupid. Of course, we should question loving the old masters but then, look and look again. There is a reason these paintings have survived. They evoke or can evoke the deepest positive reactions that humans are capable of.

The play of light on the bodies and faces in the "Moulin de la Gallette" is revolutionary - the sunshine, the fluent shadows, the intense color were a revelation in their day (and probably since).

Max Geller’s (Founder of the "Renoir Sucks" movement) claim that Renoir fails to show the “beauty” of nature is astonishingly and crassly wide of the mark. Not only is the art of Renoir beautiful but he, personally and single handedly, taught the world to appreciate new dimensions to the beauty of the world we live in. By getting closer to the way we actually see, he showed us jewels that previous generations had never noticed. This can be seen gloriously in his sensual appreciation of a rainy day in the city, "The Umbrellas."  (Wednesday 7 October 2015 09.46 EDT).
The Umbrellas at the Frick.

Yet here is a painter who asked: "Why shouldn't art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.”

Renoir's late work was an inspiration to another generation of painters, including Picasso, Matisse and Bonnard. He loved to paint and the work from the final three decades of his life, roughly 1880 to 1919, is among his best.  Early Renoir was all about Impressionism –  color, light, movement. Then a break came in the early 80s and the work became more disciplined in a crisper, drier style,  reminiscent of the frescoes  he admired in Pompeii. About his late works, Renoir said:  "I'm starting to know how to paint. It's taken more than fifty years to get this far, and I've not finished yet.”

At the end of his life, Renoir developed serious rheumatoid arthritis which crippled him. Yet, in a silent film from that period, you see a giggling, old grizzled man, a cigarette  dangling from his lips, joking with friends, one of whom helps him hold a paint brush in fragile, injured fingers.  At the time, Renoir  was living in Cagnes, near Nice in the south of France in a house by the sea, a timeless Arcadian world of beauty. Here he captured feminine beauty, adorable children, man and nature in its most idyllic state. He may have been a fashionista, given that his father was a tailor and his mother a seamstress but Oh, what a painter. Could Degas have painted a dancer more beautifully and yet, look at her enigmatic expression. You want to know more about her and her world. How many painters have achieved so much.

His lush late nudes are the personification of Mother Earth in all her abundance. Only those enchanted by anorexic nudes and heroin chic would fail to respond to their curvaceous sensuality.

 Tilla Durieux

Essays on the Renoir paintings at the Frick.
Ten things Renoir taught us about painting.
Renoir at the Met.

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