Modernism mixes with classicism in latest Renoir exhibit
Posted February 28, 2010 at 5:19 pm in Lifestyle
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art boasts that its new exhibit Renoir in the 20th Century offers an unprecedented look at the world-renowned French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir through the unorthodox perspective of modernism, claiming that the exhibition closes the perceived gap between art of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The exhibit, which will be open until May 9, is LACMAâ€™s first monographic study dedicated almost exclusively to Renoir, and the first in the world since 1985. It covers the last 30 years of Renoirâ€™s painting career when his painting style veered off of the modern, progressive path and focused more on nude paintings, portraiture, fantastic â€śOrientâ€ť paintings and works inspired by classical mythology.
The exhibit showcases Renoirâ€™s sculptures, drawings, family photos and even a silent video of Renoir in his studio.
Alongside the remarkable Renoir pieces on display in the new exhibit, LACMA is also showcasing works by artists who were inspired by Renoirâ€™s late work â€” Matisse, Bonnard, Maillol and Picasso included.
Many of the pieces on display, including a sculpture of the artistâ€™s son Claude, were never intended to be seen by the public. The various sculptures that are spread through the exhibit range from the basic (â€śCocoâ€ť) to the very elaborate, as seen in his decorative clock, â€śHymn to Life,â€ť which pays homage to classical decorative arts by depicting a mythological scene of nymphâ€“like nudes. His drawings â€” most of which were intended strictly as studies for subsequent paintings and were not meant to be displayed as finished products â€” are placed next to studies by Maillol. Some of the Maillol studies were clearly influenced by Renoirâ€™s nude sketches.
The exhibit follows the work of Renoir after the Impressionistic peak of his career. It acknowledges the time when Renoir was a leader in the battles of Impressionism, but the art displayed dates after 1880, when he began to distance himself from Impressionism and wanted to return to a style that was more classical and free. Although his subjects are shown in modern contexts, his depictions of them are inspired by works of the great masters like Titian and are heavily influenced by mythology.
While many artists at the time either used their art to remark on turmoil or decided to make progressive changes within the medium, Renoirâ€™s paintings retreated to fantasy and innocence. He said that pain disappears, but beauty endures, a perspective that shines through some of his most famous scenes, which are present at the exhibit.
From â€śTwo Young Girls at the Piano,â€ť which depicts a calm musical scene to â€śThe Artistâ€™s Son Jean Drawing,â€ť which was inspired by Jean-Baptiste-SimĂ©on Chardinâ€™s 18th century paintings of childhood innocence, the exhibit shows pieces that were technically old-fashioned in their own time. Nonetheless, these are pieces that art appreciators must take into account when discussing Renoir.
Renoirâ€™s nudes are another main focus of the exhibit, which emphasizes that Renoir was a pioneer in setting the classic â€śold masterâ€ť style nude in modern settings. Rather than associating the nude woman with a mythological or biblical tale, Renoirâ€™s nudes are depicted doing ordinary chores. Although Renoir wanted to abstain from modernism, his nudes are displayed in modern settings but appear oddly timeless.
The exhibit is spread between nine spacious, white rooms that reflect the light, airy quality of Renoirâ€™s work. Although the rooms arenâ€™t completely dissimilar from one another, they each attempt a sort of theme â€” nudes, drawings, portraiture, etc. The final room is occupied by the painting that Renoir considered his masterpiece titled â€śThe Great Bathers (The Nymphs).â€ť The exhibit suggests that this painting hasnâ€™t garnered much respect because it wasnâ€™t at all progressive. While history has considered barrierâ€“breaking works of the time to be more important, â€śThe Great Bathersâ€ť is a throwback to nudes of the previous centuries that were depicted in lush outdoorsy settings.
The works in the exhibit have been acquired from across the globe â€” Paris, Philadelphia, Tokyo, New York â€” yet all contribute to a cohesive representation of Renoirâ€™s late and often ignored work. By the turnout of visitors, however, it seems as if some of these pieces are finally regaining recognition.
Renoir is quoted as saying, â€śWhy shouldnâ€™t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.â€ť His view of art is exemplified throughout the exhibit, which displays his work that was truly intended to be beautiful above all else. LACMA makes it a point to explain that these paintings have often been underappreciated because of their distance from modernity and the cultural changes of the time; however, the work of Renoirâ€™s last 30 years was influential on modern artists and beautiful in its own right.