Thursday, March 14, 2013

Renoir Controversy -- Day 2/68

Walk: de Young (lecture: Pigments and Binders), Corte Madera, A Dock/Sausalito
Distance: 1 miles

Since seeing a soon-to-be-released movie, Renoir, at Film Club last Sunday I've had him on my mind.   As I watched the movie, I realized the paintings I was "seeing him paint" in the movie were very different from the ones that call to me, especially Luncheon of the Boating Party. His circumstances were also different from the generally known one of his near impoverishment as a pioneering Impressionist. His later property and home on the Riviera  in Cagnes-sur-Mer were sumptuous, he was surrounded by doting former model/mistresses now-servants, he was very famous and busy painting - presumably partially  to fulfill Alfred Barnes' (the  Philadelphia collector) order for 70 (!) oils.  But mainly because Renoir painted relentlessly - in spite of severely crippling arthritis -  until literally the day he died on December 3, 1919. About tenacious work to the end there is a famous quote in response to Matisse who urged him to quit the pain of painting: Beauty remains but pain passes.

But was the work Renoir was producing in the years since his trip to Italy shortly after completing Luncheon of the Boating Party 'beautiful?" (See yesterday's ciwt)  Here is an example; what do you think?
Renoir Girl Basket of Fish

                                                        Girl with a Basket of Fish, 1889
To me it is comparatively lifeless/personalityless and reads like a classic Greek or Roman marble statue.

Maybe you would be in the camp who likes it.  His late works have both supporters (certainly Mr. Barnes and Picasso owned several of his works and was said to be influenced by them - see below).  But the stronger voice is that of the detractors. For instance, 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.*  And As recently as 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.”   Here's an example):

Reclining Nude, 1892

Or as Claudia Einecke, a curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art summed it up:

“For the most part, the late work of Renoir has been written out of art history. 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.”

But Picasso apparently didn't agree.  He bought Eurydice (1895-1900) seen below and was said to be influenced by it in his work. Some art historians see the same painting as utterly without merit.

Eurydice, 1895-1900

Matisse was also reportedly admiring of Renoir's art to the end. One of Renoir's final efforts, The Bathers, from 1918-19,
was deemed  an uneven, "disturbing" painting by one art critic.  But Matisse said of the same painting “one of the most beautiful pictures ever painted.”

The Bathers 1918-19

So, it appears my sense of discomfort that has stayed with me after seeing the Renoir movie is grounded in fact.  What is one to make of Renoir's controversial second act?'s Controversial Second Act 
* All quotes from this article

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