Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Renoir. Intimacy

Albertina 18 October 2016 to 22 January 2017
Bilbao Fine Arts Museum from 7 February to 15 May 2017

Writing about his father, the filmmaker Jean Renoir said: “He looked at flowers, women and clouds in the sky as other men touch and caress.” Renoir. Intimacy, the first retrospective in Spain to focus on the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), will challenge the traditional concept that reduces Impressionism to the “purely visual”. Rather, it will emphasise the central role played by tactile sensations in Renoir’s paintings, which are present in all the different phases of his career and are expressed through a wide range of genres including group scenes, portraits, nudes, still lifes and landscapes.

Curated by Guillermo Solana, Artistic Director of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, the exhibition will present a survey of more than 75 works by the artist loaned from museums and collections worldwide, including the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Renoir. Intimacy will show how the artist made use of the tactile qualities of volume, paint and textures as a vehicle to evoke intimacy in its various forms (friendship, the family or erotic ties) and how that imagery connects the work to the viewer through the sensuality of the brushstroke and the pictorial surface.

Touch and intimacy

While the figures in the group portraits of artists such as Manet and Degas tend to maintain their distance with the viewer, Renoir imbued his figures with a palpable closeness. In scenes with two or more, these figures habitually participate in a process of alternation between visual and physical contact: pairs of siblings or mothers and children in which one looks at the other, while the second responds by touching them.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. After the Luncheon, 1879. Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main. / Bathing on the Seine. La Grenouillère, 1869. The State Pushkin Museum, Moscú.

On occasions these exchanges are constructed around a shared activity such as reading a book. In the case of his individual portraits, Renoir aimed to offer an experience comparable to physical contact by bringing the viewer as close as possible. While Degas surrounded his models with a setting and attributes that represent them, Renoir tended to tighten up the composition, omitting the setting in order to concentrate our gaze on the figure’s face. Other details that refer to palpable sensations in Renoir’s paintings include the figures’ hair, which they play with and twist around their hands; the dogs and cats held by women in these works; the pieces of cloth or towels that cover their breast or are wrapped round their thighs; the task of sewing; skeins of wool; or the dense texture of a garden.

Intimate Renoir is structured into five thematic sections: Impressionism, Portraits, Landscapes, Family and domestic Scenes and Bathers.

The Impressionist phase, from 1869 to 1880, occupies three rooms in the exhibition and features some of Renoir’s most iconic works, including 

After the Luncheon(1879), a life study for 


Le Moulin de la Galette(1875-1876), and

Bathing in the Seine (La Grenouillère)of 1869, one of the works that Renoir executed in La Grenouillère, a popular area for leisure activities on the outskirts of Paris where he worked with Monet.

A selection of female portraits set outdoors or in interiors, including 

Portrait of Madame Claude Monet(1872-1874), 

portraits of couples such as La Promenade(1870),

in addition to an Impressionist landscape, 

Woman with a Parasol in a Garden(1875), complete this section.

By 1881 the Impressionist approach seemed to be exhausted and the group’s members moved apart. Renoir turned his gaze to the classical tradition, from Raphael to Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres. While maintaining the use of an Impressionist pictorial language, his works now reveal a greater emphasis on drawing.

From the late 1870s and during the rest of the following decade Renoir gained a growing reputation as a portraitist, becoming one of the most solicited by Parisian high society. His depictions of

Mlle. Charlotte Berthier (1883), 

Portrait of the Poet Alice Vallières-Merzbach(1913),

the portrait of his dealer Paul Durand (1910)

and of his sons Joseph Durand-Ruel(1882)

and Charles and Georges Durand-Ruel(1882) are among the examples of this facet of his output on display.

The room devoted to landscapes includes views of the Normandy coast and the Channel Islands, such as

Hills around the Bay of Moulin Huet, Guernsey(1883), Provence,

where he shared pictorial motifs with his friend Cézanne, among them

Mont Sainte-Victoire(ca.1888-1889)

and various locations in southern Italy, including The Bay of Salerno (Landscape of the South) of 1881.

The exhibition continues with family and domestic scenes featuring the artist’s children, such as

Coco eating his Soup(1905) 

and Jean dressed as a Hunter (1910);

the artist’s wife Aline, depicted in Motherhood(1885), painted to mark the birth of their first son Pierre, 

and in Aline Renoir Nursing her Baby(1915);

and other members of his closest circle. The latter included Gabrielle Renard, the family’s nanny and a distant relative of Aline, who became one of Renoir’s favourite models, seen here in 

Boy with an Apple or Gabrielle, Jean Renoir and a Girl(ca.1895-1896), and Andrée Heuschling, who would marry Renoir’s son Jean after the artist’s death, seen here in

The Concert (1918-1919).

The nude was among Renoir’s preferred subjects, although with the exception of Degas the Impressionists tended to avoid it as they considered it an academic theme.

Engaged in his own stylistic evolution, Renoir achieved one of the high points of his career with his scenes of bathers: a series of nudes set outdoors in which the artist celebrated a type of timeless nature devoid of any reference to the modern world. The result is an idyllic vision characterised by the sensuality of the models, richness of colouring and plenitude of the forms.