“Late Renoir,” the first exhibition to survey the achievement of the great Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) during his final three decades, has arrived at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Museum owns more than 50 works—paintings, sculpture, drawings, and lithographs—by Renoir, and the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania has 181 works by the French artist, most of them from his late period. “Late Renoir” is the fifth major exhibition in the Museum’s history to focus on the artist.
“Philadelphia may be the most fascinating place to see the exhibition,” noted Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Museum. “We are in true Renoir country, and given what we have in Philadelphia collections both here and in private collections.” The Museum will lend 12 works to Late Renoir, making it the largest lender to the show.
The son of tailor, Renoir moved to Paris as a young child where he grew up near the Palais du Louvre, which would later play a critical role in his career and artistic development. Apprenticed to a porcelain painter at age thirteen, Renoir’s first love was painting. He spent his free time copying paintings at the Louvre and visiting the studio of the academic painter Charles Gleyre. Renoir enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts in 1862 and in 1864 exhibited his first painting at the Salon. Renoir exhibited with the Impressionists from 1874 to 1877 and became known for his portraits and scenes of modern Parisians at leisure, enjoying dances, attending the theatre, or rowing on the Seine. By the early 1880s, Renoir was dissatisfied with the limitations of the Impressionist technique and subject matter and undertook a series of travels within France and to Algeria and Italy. Influenced by ancient art and the work of Renaissance painters like Raphael, Titian, and Veronese, he sought to adapt his new manner of painting from nature with the art of the past. Working a linear style with a pale palette, he proclaimed his break from Impressionism and bold ambitions in a monumental work of 1884-87, “Large Bathers” (Philadelphia Museum of Art). In 1885 a son, Pierre, was born to Renoir and Aline Charigot, a seamstress who was one of his models in the 1880s. The couple married in 1890.
In 1892 the French state commissioned a painting by Renoir to hang in the national museum, thus signaling that the public had finally recognized the innovations of Renoir’s painting style and its place within the history of French painting. In this decade his scenes of young bourgeois women, wearing elaborate costumes and hats and engaged in leisure activities were popular with collectors and ensured Renoir’s financial security.
Renoir painted ceaselessly in the last decade of his life. His work was seen less frequently in Paris, but exhibitions of his latest material, like a show held at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in 1913, astonished collectors, artists, and critics who proclaimed that he was “the greatest living painter.” Henri Matisse moved to Nice in December 1917 and became a frequent visitor to Les Collettes where he and Renoir exchanged ideas about painting. On the advice of the dealer Ambroise Vollard, Renoir continued his exploration of sculpture, relying on young sculptors to produce plaster models with his input since he was no longer able to handle the clay himself. Renoir died on December 3, 1919, having worked on a still life of anemones earlier in the day and declaring, “I think I am beginning to understand something about painting.”
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. In honor of the legacy of the late Anne d’Harnoncourt, former director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum, the Museum will offer all day free admission on Saturday, June 19th. For general information, call (215) 763-8100, or visit the Museum’s website at www.philamuseum.org.