I remember the first time I saw Renoir’s painting, “Girls at the Piano,” hung on a restaurant wall when I was a first-grader in elementary school. I loved the vibrant warmth of the colors and the softness of the girls’ expressions. Since then, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) has become one of my favorite painters. Given that preference, my reading of this book about the master was long overdue. Still, I am pleased to learn that Renoir was what I had imagined him to be – a creator of art whose eyes are set on the stars and foot grounded on earth.
Renoir was a master of the French Impressionism troika led by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, pioneering a new painting style as the epoch needed a new cultural ethos for the upcoming new century. Although the masters of French Impressionism were on the same musical note, their timbres were various. While Monet and Pissarro were idiosyncratic and liberal in techniques and subject figures of their artistic creations, Renoir was a conservative in keeping a tradition of Paul Rubens in his celebration of feminine beauty surrounded by the realism of nature and life.
A pursuer of the natural and ideal beauty existing in the physical world, not the spheres of the heavens, Renoir used the ideal to perfect the real, adapting traditional techniques to his visions of the worlds conjured in his mind’s eye. Renoir’s fascination with sensuous beauty in the expression of vivid but soft hues of vibrant colors and rounded, smooth figures of models in his paintings show his unintentional application of Aristotelian aesthetic theory: beauty inherent in itself and beauty by its use. Renoir’s paintings are replete with the beautiful colors, the warmth of the ambiance, pleasantness of the moment, and equilibrium of the backgrounds, all the mastery of using the ordinary with a profound sense to elevate it to art, giving art its true meaning. That might be a reason why German composer Richard Wagner, the creator of “Nibelungen’s Ring,” chose Renoir among other famous painters of the time to produce his portraiture. Or perhaps it was why Americans first found Renoir’s paintings so appealing that the goring sales in America brought Renoir fame and wealth.
After reading this elegant biography of Renoir, I liked him even more because he was an artist who had an artistic vein of genius and a practical sense of responsibility. He was a devoted father who even took care of his illegitimate daughter from his first girlfriend before marrying his model wife Aline Chariot, from whom he kept it a secret for life. Renoir might have had preconceptions about specific beliefs and people, but who would not have them secretly hidden in their mind’s closet? I believe that art serves its purpose when it gives the beholder a delightful sensation, not a dangerous illusion of distorted reality drawn from an artist’s disillusioned mind. Now I have a replica of Renoir’s “Two Girls at the Piano” from Amazon posted on my bedroom wall. It still has the first impression of the painting that has stayed in my heart with delightful nostalgia, enveloping me in the longing for the bidding the time’s return, which only Renoir could do the magic.