First Major Exhibition of Renoir’s Focus on the Human Form Marks Centenary of the Artist’s Death
October 27, 2019–January 26, 2020
FORT WORTH, TX (November 27, 2018) Over the course of his long career, Pierre-Auguste Renoir continually turned to the human figure for artistic inspiration. The body—particularly the nude—was the defining subject of Renoir’s artistic practice from his early days as a student copying the old masters in the Louvre to the early 20th century, when his revolutionary style of painting inspired the masters of modernism. In recognition of the centenary of Renoir’s death, the Clark Art Institute and Kimbell Art Museum present Renoir: The Body, The Senses. This daring exhibition is the first major exploration of Renoir’s unceasing interest in the human form, and it reconsiders Renoir as a constantly evolving artist whose style moved from Realism into luminous Impressionism, culminating in the modern classicism of his last decades.
Co-organized by Esther Bell, Martha and Robert Lipp Chief Curator at the Clark, and George T. M. Shackelford, deputy director at the Kimbell, the exhibition will be on view at the Clark in Williamstown, Massachusetts, June 8–September 22, 2019, and at the Kimbell in Fort Worth, Texas, October 27, 2019–January 26, 2020.
Renoir: The Body, The Senses includes approximately 60 paintings, drawings, pastels and sculptures by the artist as well as works by his predecessors, contemporaries and followers. An international roster of exceptional loans including Boy with a Cat (1868, Musée d’Orsay), Study: Torso, Effect of Sun (c. 1876, Musée d’Orsay), Seated Bather (c. 1883–84, Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums) and The Bathers (1918–19, Musée d’Orsay), as well as major contributions from the Clark’s renowned collection of the artist’s work, survey the breadth of Renoir’s career.
Renoir’s respect for tradition will be demonstrated by comparison with such paintings as The Three Graces (Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1636, Dulwich Picture Gallery), Andromeda (Eugène Delacroix, 1852, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) and The Repose (Camille Corot, 1860, reworked c. 1865/70, National Gallery of Art). His distinct approach to the subject of bathers will be underscored in a comparison of works such as his Bathers Playing with a Crab (c. 1897, Cleveland Art Museum) and The Bathers (Edgar Degas, c.1895, Art Institute of Chicago). Renoir’s profound influence on future generations will be seen in Pablo Picasso’s Nude Combing Her Hair (1906, Kimbell Art Museum), among others.
“Our exhibition will survey Renoir’s long career through the lens of the single subject that defines his legacy,” said Bell. “It’s the subject that most compellingly demonstrates how truly radical—and so often brilliant—he was.”
The exhibition investigates a number of themes central to today’s consideration of Renoir’s art, chief among them his engagement with the long tradition of the female nude as depicted in antique sculpture, in painting since the Renaissance and as espoused in his time by the École des Beaux-Arts. Further themes include the concept of the female body and the male gaze in the 19th century, Impressionist figure painting and the effects of light on flesh, Renoir’s talent as a draftsman, the relationship between Renoir’s treatment of the body and that of such contemporaries as Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cézanne and Renoir’s late—still much debated—paintings and sculpture, works that inspired the next generation of modern artists.
“One hundred years after his death, Renoir still courts controversy,” said Shackelford. “We expect today’s audiences will be both inspired and challenged by the magnificent images of the nude that we’re bringing together in Renoir: The Body, The Senses—and we’re looking forward to a lively discussion.”
The artist’s critical reception—then and now—is explored in the exhibition and in the accompanying catalogue. During his lifetime, Renoir was idolized by artists including Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, as well as by renowned collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein, Josse and Gaston Bernheim-Jeune, Albert Barnes and Sterling and Francine Clark. But he also experienced brutal criticism. In 1876, critic Albert Wolff wrote in Le Figaro, “Would someone kindly explain to M. Renoir that a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with the green and purplish blotches that indicate a state of complete putrefaction in a corpse”—referring to Study: Torso, Effect of Sun, now regarded as one of the high points of Impressionism. Today, Renoir remains a polarizing figure worthy of scholarly investigation, unabashed contemplation and reconsideration by contemporary audiences.
In an interview conducted for the exhibition catalogue, contemporary artist Lisa Yuskavage, whose work prominently features the female nude, discusses why Renoir endures as an artist worthy of continued examination. “Renoir doesn’t impress everyone. And yet he persists. I really do think that the serious conundrum is why. I think that is a worthwhile thing to try to understand. What is it that makes his work persist? It’s not just because a lot of people like it. I think the answer really lies in understanding who has loved it.”
The companion catalogue (Yale University Press) also features essays from leading scholars of 19th-century painting such as Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan Library and Museum; Esther Bell; George T. M. Shackelford; Nicole Myers, Lillian and James H. Clark Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Dallas Museum of Art; Martha Lucy, deputy director of research, interpretation and education at the Barnes Foundation; and Sylvie Patry, deputy director of the Musée d’Orsay. Lisa Yuskavage’s reflections on Renoir are included in a lively discussion with Alison de Lima Greene, Isabel Brown Wilson Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, exploring the depiction of the body in relation to 21st-century feminist dialogue.
ABOUT THE KIMBELL
The Kimbell Art Museum, owned and operated by the Kimbell Art Foundation, is internationally renowned for both its collections and its architecture. The Kimbell’s collections range in period from antiquity to the 20th century and include European masterpieces by artists such as Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Poussin, Velázquez, Monet, Picasso and Matisse; important collections of Egyptian and classical antiquities; and the art of Asia, Africa and the Ancient Americas.
The Museum’s 1972 building, designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn, is widely regarded as one of the outstanding architectural achievements of the modern era. A second building, designed by world-renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, opened in 2013 and now provides space for special exhibitions, dedicated classrooms and a 289-seat auditorium with excellent acoustics for music.
Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and students and $14 for children 12 and under. Admission is half-price all day on Tuesdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays. Admission is always FREE to view the Museum’s permanent collection. The Museum is open 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesdays–Thursdays and Saturdays; noon–8 p.m. Fridays; and noon–5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays. For more information, visit kimbellart.org/visit.
ABOUT THE CLARK
The Clark Art Institute, located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, consisting of more than 270,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.
The Clark, which has a three-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide, is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; open daily in July and August. Admission is $20; free year-round for Clark members, children 18 and younger and students with valid ID. Free admission is available through several programs, including First Sundays Free; a local library pass program; EBT Card to Culture; Bank of America Museums on Us; and Blue Star Museums. For more information on these programs and more, visit clarkart.edu or call 413-458-2303.