Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Nude in Western Art: Part Two

Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted about 1800 works during his lifetime.  I don’t know the exact number but probably around 150 of them were various kinds of nudes.  He is referred to by at least one art historian as “the painter of women" and the feminine form (nude or otherwise) represented a significant portion of his work.  

He actually drifted more toward painting nudes later in his life.  Particularly in the final three decades of his life, Renoir seemed to surround himself with female “bathers”.  How splendid to be in his old age surrounded by femininity in often sensuously playful banter and contemplative repose! Things could be worse, right?

Many of his nudes with life-sized on huge canvases. But whether the paintings were large or small Renoir captured a sensual and distinctively feminine character in these fascinating master works.  As I said in Part One of this series, I do not find the vast majority of these paintings to be erotic. More often than not, Renoir’s taste in female symmetry does not match my own.  Yet, he remains my favorite painter and his nudes are a subject of interest to me.  So much so that I am devoting a full post to him alone.  Partly that is because the nude form seems to have played a greater part in his overall body of work than most other impressionist painter. But mostly it is because viewing almost any Renoir painting makes me happy.

He did create one great and rather mysterious erotic nude, however.  And we will begin with that somewhat provocative work.
The Boy with the Cat.  1868.  Why the radically pale flesh?  Why the lazy, comfortable pose?  Why is he looking at us somewhat seductively? Why is he so wrapped up in the cat adding to the seduction? There are no fixed answers. As the other paintings posted here will show, Renoir never created another work like this. It has a slightly disturbing quality. Nevertheless, I consider this Renoir's most erotic nude painting.  From his pre-impressionist days.
Above: 1870.  Bather with a Griffon Dog.  This painting is currently hanging in a major museum in Brazil.  This model is the same woman who posed for Renoir in Woman from Algiers which Jennifer and I saw in DC last summer.  Secondly: A feature in my Art Authority App allows you to view the size of the painting compared with average height youth.
Nude in the Sunlight.  1875-1876.  A marvelous example of Renoir's impressionistic transformation.  A rich, beautiful painting.  One of my favorites though, as I have said, I do not find the girl particularly attractive.
The Bathers.  1887.  Another transformation with four nudes, two youthful, the others in robust fullness.  This is another very large canvas painting.
Bather Seated on a Rock. 1892.  A small canvas for this one.
Nude in a Straw Hat.  Also from 1892, perhaps in a related location with the previous painting.  Different girl though. Technically, not a nude (though the title makes it admissible) since she is wearing a wonderful straw hat decorated with red flowers.  Renoir was at his best painting details in the flowers here and in many other non-nude paintings.
Bathers in the Forest.  1897.  A playful innocent moment.
Bather Sleeping.  1897.  A sultry yet dreamy pose. 
Large Nude.  1907.  I saw this large Renoir (among one or two others here) at an exhibit in Atlanta before I started this blog around 2007.
Caryatids. 1910.
Nude.  1910.  Playing with the energy of symmetry.
Venus Victrix. 1913.  Late in his life, Renoir broadened his exploration of the nude into sculpture and statues.  The subject is classically inspired by Greek myth. This form is about the same size as the Large Nude painting above. 
Femme a la Poitrine, Nue Endormie, 1919.  This is one of Renoir's last paintings.
The Bathers.  1918-1919.  Another huge canvas painting, perhaps his final large painting.  Also one of his most famous nudes.

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