Saturday, May 17, 2014

Inspirational Person of the Month, Renoir

The remarkable thing to me is that though Pierre Auguste Renoir was a very great painter and quite obsessed with his art, he was not a monster to his children as so many great men, much less artists, are. 
Renoir was conscientious with his children. His son Pierre Renoir was an actor and another son, Claude Renoir, was a ceramic artist. 

His most well known son, Jean Renoir, after WWI, would go on to become one of the greatest film directors of the twentieth century, especially for his films Grand Illusion (1937) and Rules of the Game (1939). He would also write a loving biography of his father, Renoir, My Father (1962), in his own older age and then be buried with him.  His father's painting of him as a boy is to the left.

During his own career, Jean had to sell some of his father's paintings to fund his career and he did so without a qualm as his father had perfectly understood his need to find his own muse. The father had earlier tried to help him find a medium, starting him off in ceramics. Jean had also recovered from his injuries in the war at his father's country home in the last years of his life at Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, while his father kept painting all the while. Jean's own son, Alain Renoir, was a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley and a scholar of medieval English literature.

The second thing to admire about the elder Renoir was his utter tenacity in painting despite being afflicted with terrible health and in his hands, no less. In the end part of his life, his rheumatoid arthritis was entirely unrelieved all over his body. Medicine and doctors could do virtually nothing for him from the earlier 1900s till his death in 1919. Few such patients today are in such physical torment as he was. However, he kept painting throughout, even though he was usually in a wheelchair and with his hands wrapped in bandages. His famous nudes in the countryside come from that period as they bathe and frolic in the sun and water of southern France. He cocooned himself among his art, his family and his retainers in southern France and just kept painting. Although he was 78 when he died, he seemed much older because he was so crippled and with such misshapen hands.

Of course the main thing we admire about him is that he was an extraordinary painter and one that is accessible to just about everyone. If an art museum visitor cannot even warm up to a Renoir Impressionist painting, such a person is usually a lost cause for being an art lover. He handled light beautifully and he was one of the few painters to handle women of all sizes. The nudes in those later paintings are all quite Rubenesque.

What got me thinking about Renoir was all the new material being released about painter Lucian Freud who died not long ago at age 88. He was a constant womanizer, begat 14 children with varied women, divorced two women and was a terrible father and husband. Was he a great painter? Yes. Was he better than Renoir? No, plus he was not in constant pain either or a veritable cripple. Freud's model of behavior unfortunately was and is the one more frequently followed. Picasso was downright cruel to his family members as was Chaplin, O'Neill and the vast majority of those in the pantheon of the arts. Renoir broke the mould in all respects as a human being in the arts.

There was a beautiful film made in 2013 about Pierre Auguste Renoir in the end years of his life. It is French language, English subtitles, simply called Renoir

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