Flaneur’s Gallery: Renoir in the 20th Century

Pierre Auguste Renoir. Gabrielle With A Rose. 1911. Musee d’Orsay, Paris. [Source: Musee d'Orsay/Google Images]

Gabrielle Renard was more than the Renoir family’s nanny. She was the painter’s model and muse late in life as he turned away from the Impressionist style he had helped to create.  Renoir painted Gabrielle many times. Some of the portraits, including Gabrielle With A Rose, are gathered in Renoir in the 20th Century, now on exhibit at the Los Angles County Museum of Art. According to NPR’s  Susan Stamberg:

In these last decades, Renoir’s women are beautiful — with their lush, voluptuous figures. LACMA curator Claudia Einecke says Renoir looked for models whose pearly skin, as he put it, “took the light.”

“It wasn’t just the body type or the form of the shape,” Einecke explains. “It was also the beauty of the skin and flesh itself.”

One buxom beauty is Gabrielle Renard — the family’s longtime, beloved nanny, and Renoir’s model and muse. He painted her hundreds of times. In one image, from 1911, Gabrielle holds a pink rose to her ear.

“We know by photographs that the roses were paper,” says Sylvie Patry, curator at Musee d’Orsay, where the Renoir show originated.

Gabrielle’s skin is pearly-smooth, her breasts almost gleam. The negligee draped around her shoulders is painted in lively gray-whites with elaborate brush strokes. Listen/read more.

At the end of his life, French impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir continued painting — using a brush tied to his arthritic hand. [Source: Time and Life Pictures/Getty Images/NPR]

The Renoir in the 20th Century exhibition includes a 1915 film that shows Renoir painting even though rheumatoid arthritis limited his hand movement. I’ve searched for a link or embed for the footage but haven’t found it. Susan Stamberg describes it thus:

His hands look like stumps of old trees — you can barely see his fingers because they are so curled in on themselves. Fabric is tied across Renoir’s palms, to protect his skin.

In the newsreel footage, he clamps a paintbrush between the thumb and fist of his right hand. Renoir leans into the canvas as he paints. He talks while he works. He’s lively, and his eyes are piercing.

LACMA Director Michael Govan says it’s amazing to see a film of the great artist painting. In his wheelchair, Renoir is gaunt and emaciated. He is in pain, but he’s making art — though not the same art he’d made in earlier years. Listen/read more.

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2 Responses to Flaneur’s Gallery: Renoir in the 20th Century

  1. Sara H says:

    Hi, Mark! Lovely post. I wondered if you’ve read Jean Renoir’s memoir of his father - it is such a lively portrait and tells a lot about Gabrielle and the whole family. I found Renoir’s beliefs about life very interesting & inspiring…

  2. Mark Willis says:

    Sara, I certainly want to read it. I’ve encountered many quotes and references to My Life and My Films. Have you read Susan Vreeland’s Luncheon of the Boating Party? It’s a delightful historical novel with much authenticity in the details. Vreeland acknowledges her debt to Jean Renoir’s memoir.

    “We are all Renoir’s children in the paintings,” Jean Renoir said. This portrait of Jean and Gabrielle is one of the works featured in the Renoir in the 20th Century exhibition.

    Pierre Auguste Renoir. Gabrielle And Jean. Oil on canvas, 1895. Musee de l’Orangerie, Paris. [Source: Musee de l'Orangerie/NPR]

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