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article imageOp-Ed: Renoir's Beauty Remains, Continues to Leave Impressionist Marks

By John Rickman     Mar 14, 2008 in Entertainment
In the last years of his life, Renoir had arthritis so bad that a brush had to be strapped to his hand so that he could paint. When asked why he continued to work in such conditions he replied, "The pain passes, but the beauty remains."
Pierre-Auguste Renoir has been much in the news of late. This month the Vittoriano Complex in Rome is hosting a large showing featuring as many as 130 of his works gathered from museums and private collections all over the world.
Meanwhile the National Gallery of Ireland has just announced the purchase of the first painting by Renoir ever to be shown in that gallery. It is a small work entitled 'Jeune femme en blanc lisant' (Young woman in white reading), which the museum purchased for €330,000.
In the U.S. the Denver art museum is mounting a show entitled "Inspiring Impressionism" which explores the sources of inspiration of several of the leading Impressionist painters including Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and, of course, Renoir.
Of all the artists who made up the Impressionist movement Renoir is probably one of the most popular today, not only with art connoisseurs but with the general public as well. Perhaps it is his inspired use of color or his vigorous brush work that has won the heart of the general public, but most likely it has to do with his choice of subjects including pretty children, flowers and beautiful scenes. However, he is known above all for his paintings of lovely women.
In his old age Renoir had become something of a national treasure in France and many young women considered it an honor to pose in the nude for the great man. Mothers would bring their daughters to pose for him and then sit together in small groups chatting and knitting while the young women were immortalized in paint.
Things had not always been that way. The Impressionists, Renoir among them, were met with a storm of ridicule when they first began exhibiting their work. In fact, the French Academy rejected the paintings of the earliest Impressionists and confined their work to a special showing called the Salon des Refusés, which translates “exhibition of rejects.” Even the term "Impressionism" was originally intended as an insult coined by critics who said that the works were not really finished paintings at all but only "impressions" or sketches that a real artist would later turn into a finished work of art.
Like all the other great Impressionist artists, Renoir endured great hardship in his youth and did not begin to enjoy a measure of success until he reached middle age.
Born in 1841 to a working class family the young Pierre started working in a porcelain factory as a boy where his talent for drawing quickly landed him a job painting the designs on high-grade china.
In 1862 Renoir moved to Paris to study painting, but was often too poor to buy paint. He was in Paris during the Franco-Prussian war and during the Paris Commune in 1871 he was captured while painting on the banks of the Seine River. His captors thought he was a spy and were preparing to throw him in the river when Raoul Rigault, one of the leaders, recognized Renoir and saved him.
Suzanne Valdon in "The Bathers"
Always one for the ladies, Renoir often worked with a model by the name of Suzanne Valadon, a strikingly beautiful woman who posed for many of the top painters of the day and who used the opportunity to learn their techniques. She went on to become a famous Impressionist painter in her own right.
Suzanne Valdon in Dance at Bougival
Renoir was often criticized by his fellow artists, many of whom were struggling with topics of social realism and the class struggle being played out in Europe at the time, for wasting his time with frivolous subjects such as flowers, beautiful landscapes, children and, of course, the women. His is a half forgotten world that takes child-like delight in sparkling light, rich color and frank, unashamed sensuality. In response to his critics Renoir simply laughed and said "Why shouldn't art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world."
Luncheon of the Boating Party
The world seems to have agreed with this pleasant sentiment since Renoir's works are among the most popular, easily recognized and most often reproduced images in the history of art. Even many people who take little interest in art have seen and recognize many of his paintings such as The Bathers or the Luncheon of the Boating Party. It is of note that his painting, Le Moulin de la Galette, which fetched $70 million, is one of the most expensive paintings ever sold.
Le Moulin de la Galette
Unlike many artists who reach a plateau in their work and then are content to continue at that level, Renoir continued to experiment and grow as an artist, and his last works, painted when he was crippled and in pain, are considered by many to be among the finest paintings he ever did. Lovers of beauty can only be thankful that Renoir continued to work despite the personal cost because he was right -- his pain passed long ago, but the beauty he created remains.
More about Pierre auguste renoir, Retrospective, Artwork, Rome
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