To Renoir the nude was as natural as a bowl of fruit was to Cezanne. His
nudes are among the few in modern art that have any meaning: they are not
studio exhibitionists; nor are they distorted scarecrows or harlots.
the naked woman he created a type–a symbol, if you will-adding to the
natural fact his own voluptuous appreciation. There is no false emphasis on
biological accessories; his nudes stand out as symbols of his delight in living,
his satisfaction with God’s handiwork.
It is hard to paint nakedness in that
way-as an expression of honest joy and unashamed exhilaration.
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Renoir faced the obstacles in the path of the artist with unlimited forbear
ance, never whined, never expected too much of the world, and was uniform
ly happy and productive to the end.
His harmless exterior was balanced by the
shrewdness and spice of the practical son of a French tailor. In his first period,
he earned his bread and wine by commercial work, mainly china painting; in
his second, as a rejected impressionist, he received a small income from por
traiture; in his final period,
an arrangement with his dealer liberated him
from financial worries. He was a rheumatic cripple in his last years, but con
tinued to paint every day, his brush strapped to his paralyzed hand.
At every stage of his development Renoir painted nudes, always with af
fection and with a craftsmanship that is the despair of his successors.
his early impressionist years are notable for the deftness of the brushing and
the sensuous play of interwoven lights and colors; those of the final period
need not detain us-in his old age, painting with arthritic hands, he effaced
the physical charms of his women and
expanded them into overblown crea
tures of unsightly bulk and floridity. But in his middle period he struck a
happy medium in his accomplishments.
On his return from Italy in the eighties, dissatisfied with the looseness of
structure and the oversweetened colors of his early work,
the lines and contours of his women, subdued his palette, and startled his
supporters with a number of masterpieces.
Bathers, from the Tyson collection,
is perhaps the greatest of the lot. The picture is arbitrarily posed and is not
intended as a realistic bathing scene-it is a tribute to young nakedness, paint
ed with discretion and dedicated to animal loveliness.
The Venetians set the
standard for this kind of painting;
Rubens excelled in it; and in the modern
world, Renoir alone painted to the tune of physical rejoicing.