Archive for category Subject: Renoir

Renoir: an intimate biography || Barbara Ehrlich White

Barbara Ehrlich White began collecting Renoir’s letters in1961 and has amassed some 3000 of them. Some are by, some to and others about him, but the story they have to tell and the character they reveal underpin the “intimate” claim of the title of this really rather revelatory book.

Renoir evoked and still evokes strong feelings. You might think that the riot that accompanied the first Impressionists exhibition revealed passions of the past, but there was a mass demonstration outside an exhibition of Renoir’s work at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2015. The protestors’ objection was to the artist’s “indefensible swathes of poorly rendered treacle”. Renoir himself admitted that his professors found his work execrable.

This is not, however, so much an analysis of Renoir’s artistic legacy as of his character and his relationship with his contemporaries: other artists, dealers, models and his son, the film director Jean Renoir. Starting in poverty, Renoir eventually achieved success, but then stopped exhibiting with his friends as the association would devalue his own works. With success, however, came physical afflictions and he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis that made painting difficult and painful. It is something of a miracle that he continued and is, perhaps, a tribute to the creative drive that marks out the great artist in any field.

Most artistic studies are made from the outside, looking in. This contribution to the literature of a much-observed figure provides a sense of looking outwards from the point of view of the man himself.

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Renoir (Ready to Paint) || Noel Gregory

The Ready to Paint the Masters series has so far left me cold, but I can see a definite merit in this one as Noel Gregory has chosen to interpret the originals rather than copy them slavishly. In the process, he manages to tell you much more about the way Renoir worked and it’s an exercise worth following as the Impressionists laid the foundation for so much of the modern approach to painting. It’s to them that we owe looseness and interpretation and the abandonment of the studied formality that had built up prior to their arrival.

For this book, Noel uses acrylics rather than oils, but in impasto, so the net effect is similar and this is not an exercise in working in another medium, but simply the convenience of what’s available now. The interpretation comes rather from allowing for all the history that has come between then and now, and not trying to paint like an Old Master. If it was a radio, it would have a retro case and modern DAB innards; a bit of a mule, but none the worse for that.

As I sometimes do, I’m going to sit on the fence on this one. I’m not going to tell you to rush out and buy it, but I do think it’s worth a look as you might be pleasantly surprised.

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