Nine Iconic Full-Length Paintings by Great Impressionist Renoir on Display

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The New York City-based Frick Collection is presenting  an exhibition of nine iconic Impressionist paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir(1841-1919), offering the first comprehensive study of the artist’s engagement with the full-length format. The exhibit runs through May 13.

The show draws on contemporary criticism, literature, and archival documents to explore the motivation behind Renoir’s full-length figure paintings as well as their reception by critics, peers, and the public. Recently-undertaken technical studies of the canvases will also shed new light on the artist’s working methods.

An extensive series of public programs is scheduled, and visitors to the Frick may enjoy companion video presentations in the nearby Multimedia Room.

According to the exhibition organizers, Impressionist paintings tend to be relatively modest in scale, daring in viewpoint, impromptu in compositional structure, and of a bright tonality that, while acceptable today, caused distress among critics and collectors at the time. The painters who joined forces in Paris during the early 1870s to organize the Impressionist group exhibitions in defiance of the official Salon—chief among whom were Renoir, Monet, Degas, Pissarro, and Cézanne—enjoyed a certain notoriety at the Salons of the previous decade, garnering attention in the press and interest from dealers, as well as the occasional sale. To make an impact, these young artists were encouraged to paint works of a certain scale and vigor: works that today might be described as having “wall power.

The large-scale format was especially congenial to Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who, as an eighteen-year-old apprentice, had painted full-length images of the Virgin and Child in imitation of stained glass windows on blinds manufactured for export to missionary churches. The young Renoir had also painted mural decorations in cafés, working directly on the walls. Between the mid-1870s and the mid-1880s, when he and the artists who came to be known as the Impressionists were constructing a new pictorial language, Renoir continued to execute large figurative compositions in the time-honored tradition of the chef d’oeuvre. Between 1863 and 1883, Renoir submitted works to the Salon every year but three; in 1874, 1876, and 1877 he showed his paintings in the Impressionist group exhibitions.

Ultimately, the full-length format fell out of favor with most  of his fellow Impressionists as too traditional. Renoir, meanwhile, continued to paint large scale works, enjoying for several more years the opportunity to devote himself to the heroic painting of everyday life, and also to linger on the finest details of his figures’ fashionable costumes and accessories. Today these works are among the most iconic and beloved of his oeuvre.

Dance in the city by RenoirPierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France, the child of a working class family. As a boy, he worked in a porcelain factory where his drawing talents led to him being chosen to paint designs on fine china. He also painted hangings for overseas missionaries and decorations on fans before he enrolled in art school. During those early years, he often visited the Louvre to study the French master painters.

At times during the 1860s, he did not have enough money to buy paint. Although Renoir first started exhibiting paintings at the Paris Salon in 1864, recognition did not come for another ten years, due, in part, to the turmoil of the Franco-Prussian War.

During the Paris Commune in 1871, while he painted on the banks of the Seine River, some Communards thought he was a spy, and were about to throw him into the river when a leader of the Commune, Raoul Rigault, recognized Renoir as the man who had protected him on an earlier occasion.

In 1874, a ten-year friendship with Jules Le Cœur and his family ended, and Renoir lost not only the valuable support gained by the association, but a generous welcome to stay on their property near Fontainebleau and its scenic forest. This loss of a favorite painting location resulted in a distinct change of subjects.

Renoir experienced his initial acclaim when six of his paintings were hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. In the same year, two of his works were shown with Durand-Ruel in London.

In 1890, he married Aline Victorine Charigot, who, along with a number of the artist's friends, had already served as a model for Le Déjeuner des canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party 1881), and with whom he already had a child, Pierre, in 1885. After his marriage, Renoir painted many scenes of his wife and daily family life, including their children and their nurse, Aline's cousin Gabrielle Renard. The Renoirs had three sons, one of whom, Jean (1894-1979), became a  revered filmmaker and another, Pierre, became a stage and film actor.

Teh promenade by Renoir According Richard Covington in  Smithsonian.com, “In October 1881, not long after he finished his joyous Luncheon of the Boating Party, probably his best-known work and certainly one of the most admired paintings of the past 150 years, Pierre-Auguste Renoir left Paris for Italy to fulfill a long-standing ambition. He was 40 and already acclaimed as a pioneer of Impressionism, the movement that had challenged French academic painting with its daring attempts to capture light in outdoor scenes. Represented by a leading gallery and collected by connoisseurs, he filled the enviable role of well-respected, if not yet well-paid, iconoclast.

“His ambition that fall was to reach Venice, Rome, Florence and Naples and view the paintings of Raphael, Titian and other Renaissance masters. He was not disappointed. Indeed, their virtuosity awed him, and the celebrated artist returned to Paris in a state approaching shock. “I had gone as far as I could with Impressionism,” Renoir later recalled, “and I realized I could neither paint nor draw.”

“The eye-opening trip was the beginning of the end of the Renoir most of us know and love. He kept painting, but in an entirely different vein—more in a studio than in the open air, less attracted to the play of light than to such enduring subjects as mythology and the female form—and within a decade Renoir entered what is called his late period. Critical opinion has been decidedly unkind.

In 2007, New York Times art critic Roberta Smith bemoaned “the acres of late nudes” with their “ponderous staginess,” adding “the aspersion ‘kitsch’ has been cast their way.” Both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City have unloaded late-period Renoirs to accommodate presumably more significant works. In 1989, MOMA sold Renoir’s 1902 Reclining Nude because “it simply didn’t belong to the story of modern art that we are telling,” the curator of paintings, Kirk Varnedoe, said at the time.

“For the most part, the late work of Renoir has been written out of art history,” says Claudia Einecke, a curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Renoir was seen as an interesting and important artist when he was with the Impressionists. Then he sort of lost it, becoming a reactionary and a bad painter—that was the conventional wisdom.

Read the full article "Renoir's Controversial Second Act" at Smithsonian.com

Around 1892, Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis. In 1907, he moved to the warmer climate of "Les Collettes," a farm at Cagnes-sur-Mer, close to the Mediterranean coast Renoir painted during the last twenty years of his life, even when arthritis severely limited his movement, and he was wheelchair-bound. He developed progressive deformities in his hands and ankylosis of his right shoulder, requiring him to adapt his painting technique. Renoir remained able to grasp a brush, although he required an assistant to place it in his hand. The wrapping of his hands with bandages, apparent in late photographs of the artist, served to prevent skin irritation.

During this period, he created sculptures by cooperating with a young artist, Richard Guino, who worked the clay. Renoir also used a moving canvas, or picture roll, to facilitate painting large works with his limited joint mobility. He died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.

 

Visit your local library to learn more about Renoir.

Renoir, impressionism, and full-length painting
by Colin B. Bailey, (2012).
Catalog for the Frick exhibition

The Graphic Work of Renoir : Catalogue Raisonne
Joseph G. Stella (1975).

Renoir
Anne Distel; Auguste Renoir, (2010).

Renoir
Douglas W Druick; Auguste Renoir; Art Institute of Chicago, (1997).

Renoir, my father
Jean Renoir

Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting
February 7 through May 13, 2012

 

Images

1. Article Illustration:
Dance at Bougival, 1883
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
Oil on canvas
71 5/8 x 38 5/8 inches
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Picture Fund
Photo: © 2012 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

2. The Dancer, 1874
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
Oil on canvas
56 1/8 x 37 1/8 inches
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Widener Collection
Photo: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

3. Dance in the City, 1883
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
Oil on canvas
70 7/8 x 35 1⁄2 inches
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

4. The Umbrellas (Les Parapluies), c. 1881–85
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
Oil on canvas
71 x 45 inches
The National Gallery, London, Sir Hugh Lane Bequest, 1917
Photo: © The National Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY

 

 

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