PaperCity Magazine

September 2019- Fort Worth

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85 It's hard to find controversy looking at a sun-dappled group of friends partaking in wine at a restaurant along the bank of the Seine. In Renoir's day, the nudes were looked upon with the same nonchalance as his sunny landscapes. But today, this same subject matter — especially that of the unclothed female — incites protests. Where do we stand. For a perspective and early preview of the catalog, we went straight to George T.M. Shackelford, deputy director of the Kimbell, and exhibition co-curator. Inspiration. The Clark Institute has one of the largest collections of Renoir in the country. It was appropriate that the Clark should spearhead in 2019 an exhibition to mark [the 100-year anniversary of] Renoir's death in 1919. Raiding art history. We go back and begin logically with this painted copy of one of the big panels by Rubens. Rubens was a great source of inspiration for Renoir. We wanted to remind people that painting is a part of all the senses — including taste, sight and, with flowers included, you get the sense of perfume … Renoir's favorite masterpiece was by Boucher: Diana Leaving Her Bath, This page: Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Blonde Bather, 1881. Opposite page, from above: Pierre-Auguste Renoir's The Bathers, 1918–1919; Boy with a Cat, 1868. 1742. This painting was bought by the Louvre when Renoir was only 12, but he knew it as a teenager, and he looked upon it as his favorite painting. He says he thinks of it as his first love … We're trying to juxtapose Renoir with his contemporaries. My essay for the catalog is about Renoir, Degas, Cézanne — comparing all of them. Breakthrough canvases. The only nude Renoir showed with Impressionist Salons was in 1876, a painting that we admire so much today, Study, Torso of a Woman in the Sunlight, 1875-1876. People admired it immediately because of the color that he was able to create. Other conservatives looked at the way the light hit her body and decided that it looked like decomposing flesh. And the Clark's Blonde Bather, 1881, of the artist's future wife, Aline Charigot, is included. Renoir and Picasso. Renoir, from the late 1880s to the early 1890s, begins to grow so monumental. The figures get this weighty, sculptural, ancient quality to them. You would not think it, but shortly after Renoir dies, Picasso buys his painting Seated Bather in a Landscape, Called Eurydice [1902- 1904]. We have a photograph of Picasso with it in his studio; right next to it is a sculpture he made with the head of Delacroix. If you didn't know how much Renoir counted for Picasso, you'd be surprised to learn — he had six paintings and one massive drawing by Renoir in his collection. He's an artist who inspired Picasso; but one would not make that connection easily. People only think of Renoir nowadays in Impressionist terms and forget that when he died in 1919, many people considered him the greatest living painter, in large part because of the way he manifestly carried on the French classical-figure tradition. He was pushing that into a new realm. Nudity, through modern eyes. On what terms do we, in our time, judge the work of the past? We live in an age where people feel that we must analyze our reaction to almost everything. It's hard to have an unanalyzed thought these days. We are questioning ourselves at every step. Esther Bell [the Clark's chief curator] and I wrote a text, where we talk about how we are aware that we all bring different points of view and different sets of reactions to the work. Issues that involve the body are more political than issues that involve the landscape. We are conditioned to think in our largely Judeo-Christian, nudity- avoiding society that naked bodies are something to be avoided. How do we look at something like Renoir's nudes? Is it possible to take them on the terms that were in place when they were made? Do we say, "No, that's not good enough. We need to take it in contemporary terms." Can we envision a future where the way we analyze things can be looked upon with derision? People are going to come to it with a set of questions. Sebastian Smee, now with The Washington Post, has just written an article [about the exhibition]. He had a phrase or two I thought were just terrific. "Both Boucher and Renoir express an 18th-century view of the erotic as a humane and civilizing concept, rather than a violent and disruptive one." "Renoir: The Body, The Senses" at the Kimbell Art Museum, October 27, 2019 – January 26, 2020.

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