Saturday, March 24, 2012

Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), La Promenade, 1875–76, oil on canvas, 67 x 42 5/8 inches, The Frick Collection, New York, photo: Michael Bodycomb

The Frick Collection presents an exhibition (February 7 through May 13, 2012) of nine iconic Impressionist paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, offering the first comprehensive study of the artist's engagement with the full-length format, which was associated with the official Paris Salon in the decade that saw the emergence of a fully fledged Impressionist aesthetic. The project was inspired by La Promenade of 1875–76, the most significant Impressionist work in the Frick's permanent collection.

The exhibition explores Renoir's portraits and subject pictures of this type from the mid-1870s to mid-1880s. Intended for public display, these vertical grand-scale canvases are among the artist's most daring and ambitious presentations of contemporary subjects and are today considered masterpieces of Impressionism. On view only at the Frick, Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting is a landmark exhibition, bringing together several beloved masterpieces from around the world.

Works on loan from international institutions are La Parisienne (1874) from the National Museum Wales, Cardiff; The Umbrellas (c. 1881 and 1885) from The National Gallery, London (first time on view in the United States since 1886); and Dance in the City and Dance in the Country (1882–83) from the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Works on loan from American institutions are The Dancer (1874) from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Madame Henriot "en travesti" (1875–76) from the Columbus Museum of Art; Acrobats at the Cirque Fernando (1879) from The Art Institute of Chicago; and Dance at Bougival (1882–83) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibition will be shown in the Frick's East Gallery. Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting was organized by Colin B. Bailey, the Frick's Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) The Umbrellas, c. 1881 and 1885 Oil on canvas 71 x 45 inches The National Gallery, London Photo: © The National Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue will offer fresh insights into Renoir's complex ambitions when, as a young artist, he submitted works to both the avant-garde Impressionist exhibitions and the official Salon. While painting in the new Impressionist style, Renoir remained uniquely committed to the full-length format — a traditional type eschewed by most of his fellow Impressionists.

The project draws on contemporary criticism, literature, and archival documents to explore the motivation behind Renoir's full-length figure paintings as well as their reception by critics, peers, and the public. Technical studies of the canvases themselves will also shed new light on the artist's working methods.

The juxtaposition of these full-length images of women will bring the glamour of the Belle Époque vividly to life. This format, which bears striking similarities to contemporary fashion plates, afforded Renoir the perfect opportunity to devote himself not only to his sitters, but to the finest details of their dress.

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue explore the rich variety of Renoir's painterly technique — the sheer virtuosity of his brushwork in creating silk, lace, fur, and taffeta — as well as the social significance of the garments themselves. From shimmering ball gowns to sumptuous furs, from chic Parisian day dresses to glamorous theatrical costumes, the nine paintings capture the fashions of Renoir's Paris.