Filed Under: Arts Visual Art
|Girl in a Red Ruff, 1896
As I walked into Late Renoir
, the newest exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it became clear that this was no ordinary presentation of Pierre-Auguste Renoir
's talents "Lise
" was a no-show, "Le Moulin de la Galette
" must have called in sick and "Luncheon of the Boating Party
" was, well, out to lunch. The show begins with Renoir's most commercial work. The first few paintings are tolerantly campy celebrations of domestic life. Full of focused portraits, paintings such as "Two Girls Reading
" are personal, but not in a way that goes over our collective heads. But these pieces are undeniably pretty, incorporating beautiful people and lavish fabrics alike. My favorite of these was "The Artist's Son Jean Drawing
." The painting itself is pleasant enough to sell without being ornate, and its certainly focused. Renoir approaches his son in a particularly delicate and intimate way its personal, but I would still put it on my wall. Jean also appears later in the exhibit, making him a constant by which we can gauge the changes in Renoir's style.
The exhibit slowly moves toward larger, full-body portraits and landscapes. These works were completed after Renoir made enough money to pack up his easel and move to the Les Colletes estate in Cagnes sur Mer. The paintings certainly become less and less candied as Renoir moves away from Paris and into old age. The opulence remains intact, but the marketability is waning. The exhibit juxtaposes Renoir's landscapes with Pierre Bonnard
's, making each artist's work more palpable. Renoir's landscapes have a contemporary feel with an impressionist spirit they are divine, mystical, and gardenesque. As a post-impressionist, Bonnard seems to build directly from Renoir's works, while bringing impressionism back into the mix with further gusto, assuming the role of a younger, more experimental and unrestrained, Renoir.
Renoir then branches out in a different direction not in style, but in subject matter. He begins to apply his late style to neo-Arcadian, Mediterranean topics. Here, the exhibit focuses on one body of work, "The Judgment of Paris
," giving us the initial sketch, a red chalk drawing and the painting, as well as a few sculptures based on the final work that were created with the aid of Richard Guino
(the two artist's relationship is described in great detail in the audio-tour). As we move towards Renoir's nudes, it becomes increasingly apparent that he is no longer dealing with the turmoil of developing as a young man, but with the euphoria so common to the elderly. Renoir's nudes are neo-classical in the most decorative of ways they are pink fleshy, and alive. The comparisons made between Renoir and younger artists, such as Glackens
, and Maillol
, are particularly effective in this portion. These artists seem to sprout directly from the seed that is Renoir, observing the female body in a similar way, while approaching it differently. Simply, they all see women the same, but paint or draw uniquely.
At the end of the exhibit, we are given a chance to retrospect. We see a few portraits even more personal than those in the first room. No longer commissioned by Renoir's acquaintances, these paintings uniformly portray Renoir's dearest family and friends. Naturally, they are cosmetic. Yet they are revealing as well. Because he is so close to these subjects, Renoir is able to simultaneously ornament and humanize them this is the reason I was so drawn to "The Artist's Son Jean Drawing." By bringing those who meant so much to him into the studio, he brings them into our hearts as well. The grand finale of the exhibit is the self-proclaimed masterpiece, entitled "The Bathers
." The painting springs from Renoir's earlier bathers, nudes and landscapes. However, it's not really much more than cumulative. But hey, Matisse loved it, and its definitely a common subject (although its mere wallpaper when compared to CÃ©zanne
's). The exhibit's epilogue brings it all together full of useful information, quotes, photographs and a video too (check Renoir's comments on Matisse).
What's truly special about this exhibit, is that its as easy on the eyes as can be. Like a kitten stuffed in a box or Steve Buscemi
, everyone and their mothers (mine happens to be a devoted Renoir fan) can appreciate and understand this show. Although its certainly not an exposition of Renoir's most innovative and original work, strict early-Renoir fans can appreciate it as well, for impressionism lurks below the surface in every painting put on display. However, this perk does have a dark side. Because Renoir's late work is just so damn pretty, without being avant-garde, the exhibit lacks emotion. Its much less stirring then an exhibit which, for example, includes works from Picasso
's blue period or Goya
's black period, and much less captivating than an exhibit detailing the creation of an artistic movement. Simply, it's a walk through the park, not a roller-coaster ride.
Through Sun., Sept. 5, $14-$24, Philadelphia Museum of Art,2600 Ben Franklin Parkway, 215-763-8100, philamuseum.org