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Renoir Landscapes: October 4, 2007 - January 6, 2008
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the only U.S. venue for the first exhibition to explore the inventiveness and importance of the landscape painting of Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Renoir was the single most celebrated figure painter among the French Impressionists but his landscapes—remarkable in their freshness and immediacy—demonstrate the deep sources of his inspiration in nature and his total immersion in plein-air effects of daylight. Organized by the National Gallery, London, the National Gallery, Canada, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition contains 61 works including loans from public and private collections in Brazil, Canada, Japan, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. It examines the painter as one of the most original landscape artists of his age.
“We are delighted to collaborate with our colleagues in London and Ottawa on this major exhibition to explore a little studied aspect of Renoir’s genius,” said Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “It is also gratifying to see the exhibition in the context of our own collections, which are renowned for their representation of Impressionism and particularly rich in figure paintings by Renoir. It is a great pleasure to welcome visitors from throughout the United States and beyond to Philadelphia.”
The son of a tailor and dressmaker, Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges in 1841. His family moved to Paris when he was four and by age 13 he had apprenticed as a porcelain painter. The exhibition begins with works from the 1860s, shortly after Renoir met Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley in the studio of Charles Gleyre and with them began absorbing the tradition of plein-air painting. Such early works as The Clearing in the Woods (The Detroit Institute of Arts, about 1865), painted in the forest of Fontainebleau, respond to the tradition of Barbizon painting, as well as to the mid-century luminaries Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet. In the 1870s Renoir continued to work with Monet, painting such scenes as Luncheon at the Restaurant Fournaise (The Art Institute of Chicago, 1875) with its sunny view of boaters plying the Seine at Chatou, and in the nearby Paris suburb of Argenteuil where the two artists together developed a technique of broken brushstrokes to register fleeting impressions of light and transitory natural phenomena. Renoir and Monet encouraged each other to ever more impressive feats of painterly experimentation, the results of which were first seen in the initial so-called Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1874.
Toward the end of the 1870s, Renoir experimented extensively with color and composition, challenging his contemporaries with a move towards an astonishing painterly freedom. In 1880s, Renoir’s travels in Algeria and Italy exposed him to new landscape motifs and encouraged his use of a more intense color palette. He adapted to these new subjects by developing a landscape technique composed of shimmering screens of color, as reflected in Algerian Landscape, Ravine of the Wild Woman (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 1881). While his experimentations with crashing waves and other water imagery during this period make daring strides toward abstraction, the artist himself steadfastly maintained that nature remained the ultimate source of his inspiration. In an unpublished treatise, Renoir wrote in 1883-84 that “any individual wishing to make art must be inspired solely by works of nature.… She alone can give us the variety of composition design and color necessary to make art.”
One of the central concerns of the exhibition is to re-examine Renoir’s practice as a painter through his investigations into landscape painting. John Zarobell, Associate Curator of European Painting before 1900 at the Museum, noted that while “pure landscape” has long driven studies of Impressionist painting, many of the pictures made outdoors by Impressionist artists featured figures, many were set in gardens rather than in “nature,” and the importance of marine subjects to these artists has only recently come to receive much scholarly attention. “Renoir engaged in all of these types of landscape painting, including ‘pure’ landscapes, and the diversity of his production will cast new, modern light on the nature of Impressionist landscape,” he said.
Fourteen of the works in the exhibition have not been seen before in American museums and some are little-known, including Woman with a Parasol in a Garden, 1875-6 (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), a classic Impressionist composition, and In the Woods, about 1877 (National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo), painted in a technique anticipating Pointillism by nearly a decade. In addition to works of Renoir, the exhibition includes a small section of landscape photographs by Renoir’s contemporaries, including Eduard Baldus, Adolphe Braun, Gustave Le Gray, and Eugène Cuvelier. These works suggest the ways in which nature and landscape were perceived at a time when industrialization and the railroad were transforming the relationship of the city and the country and when Paris was being rebuilt with grand boulevards, parks and gardens under Emperor Napoléon III.
The curatorial team for Renoir Landscapes includes Colin B. Bailey, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Frick Collection, and Christopher Riopelle, Curator at the National Gallery, London. John Zarobell, Associate Curator of European Paintings before 1900, is the organizer and curator of this exhibition for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The National Gallery, London, has published the lavishly illustrated catalogue, which includes essays by Professor John House of the Courtauld Institute, London, Colin B. Bailey and Christopher Riopelle, and contributions by John Zarobell and Simon Kelly, Associate Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It is available in hardcover ($65) and softcover ($45) at the Museum Store or online at www.philamuseum.org or by calling (800) 329-4856.
The exhibition is made possible by GlaxoSmithKline. Generous support is also provided by Bank of America. Additional funding is provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia, The Annenberg Foundation Fund for Major Exhibitions, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and The Robert Montgomery Scott Fund for Exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with major foundation support from the Robert Lehman Foundation. An indemnity is provided by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Promotional support is provided by NBC 10 WCAU; The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com; and Amtrak.
Renoir Landscapes is organized by the National Gallery, London, The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.