Published: September 18, 2007
The Philadelphia Museum of Art will be the only US venue for the first exhibition to explore the inventiveness and importance of the landscape painting of Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841‱919) during the first 30 years of the artist’s career. Drawn from public and private collections in the United States and abroad, “Renoir Landscapes,” on view October 4⁊anuary 6, will examine the painter as one of the most original landscape artists of his age.
Organized by the National Gallery, London, the National Gallery, Canada, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition contains more than 60 works and includes loans from public and private collections from the United States, Europe and around the world.
Renoir was the single most celebrated painter among the French Impressionists to be associated with figure painting, but his landscapes †remarkable in their freshness and immediacy †demonstrate the deep sources of his inspiration in nature and his total immersion in plein air effects of daylight.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges in 1841. His family moved to Paris when he was 4 and by age 13 he had apprenticed as a porcelain painter. The exhibition begins with works from the 1860s, shortly after Renoir met Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley in the studio of Charles Gleyre and with them began absorbing the tradition of plein air painting. Such early works as “The Clearing in the Woods” (The Detroit Institute of Arts, about 1865), painted in the forest of Fontainebleau, respond to the tradition of Barbizon painting, as well as to the midcentury luminaries Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet.
In the 1870s, Renoir continued to work with Monet, painting such scenes as “Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise” (The Art Institute of Chicago, 1875) with its sunny view of boaters plying the Seine at Chatou, and in the nearby Paris suburb of Argenteuil, where the two artists together developed a technique of broken brush strokes to register fleeting impressions of light and transitory natural phenomena. Renoir and Monet encouraged each other to ever more impressive feats of painterly experimentation, the results of which were first seen in the initial so-called Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1874.
Toward the end of the 1870s, Renoir experimented extensively with color and composition, challenging his contemporaries with a move toward an astonishing painterly freedom. In the 1880s, Renoir’s travels in Algeria and Italy exposed him to new landscape motifs and encouraged his use of a more intense color palette. He adapted to these new subjects by developing a landscape technique composed of shimmering screens of color, as reflected in “Algerian Landscape, Ravine of the Wild Woman” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 1881).
While his experimentations with crashing waves and other water imagery during this period make daring strides toward abstraction, the artist himself steadfastly maintained that nature remained the ultimate source of his inspiration. In an unpublished treatise, Renoir wrote in 1883‸4 that “any individual wishing to make art must be inspired solely by works of nature.&†She alone can give us the variety of composition design and color necessary to make art.”
One of the central concerns of the exhibition is to reexamine traditional notions of landscape painting.
John Zarobell, associate curator of European painting before 1900 at the museum, noted that while “pure landscape” has long driven studies of Impressionist painting, many of the pictures made outdoors by Impressionist artists featured figures, many were set in gardens rather than in “nature,” and the importance of marine subjects to these artists has only recently come to receive much scholarly attention. “Renoir engaged in all of these types of landscape painting, including ‘pure’ landscapes, and the diversity of his production will cast new light on the nature of Impressionist landscape,” he said.
The curatorial team for “Renoir Landscapes” includes Colin B. Bailey, deputy director and chief curator of the Frick Collection, and Christopher Riopelle, curator at the National Gallery, London. Zarobell is the organizer and curator of this exhibition for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The National Gallery, London, has published an illustrated catalog, which includes essays by Professor John House of the Courtauld Institute, London, Bailey and Riopelle, and contributions by Zarobell and Simon Kelly, associate curator of European painting and sculpture, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It is available in hardcover, $65, and softcover, $45, at the museum store or online or by calling 800-329-4856.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For information, 215-763-8100 or www.philamuseum.org .
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