“Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting” at the Frick Collection

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
La Promenade (1875-76)
Oil on canvas
67 x 42 5/8 in.
The Frick Collection, New York

[written by second year M.A. student Catherine Southwick]

I am now in the final editing stage of my thesis on Impressionism and the Paris Commune. Since writing this blog entry on my thesis research, my topic has narrowed. My thesis now focuses on Renoir only, and specifically his painting Ball at the Moulin de la Galette (1876). When I was in New York a few weeks ago, I was able to visit the Frick Collection’s exhibition, “Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting.”

The exhibition is a great opportunity to see Renoir’s large scale, full-length portraits together in one gallery. It was particularly interesting to see Renoir’s dance portraits side by side: Dance in the City and Dance in the Country from the Musée d’Orsay, and Dance at Bougival (Bougival was a site of suburban leisure with a somewhat seedy reputation) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The three works, dating from 1882-83, reflect the differences in decorum in three social spaces.

Renoir was unique among the Impressionists for his work in this traditional mode of portraiture. In my thesis, I discuss how his loyalty to portraiture was partially based on financial need: he relied on portrait commissions for his livelihood until the late 1870s. Renoir came from a working class background, unlike his fellow Impressionists, and this distinction forms the core of my argument about Renoir’s reaction to the Commune.

I was excited to see Renoir’s La Promenade (pictured above) in person. It was probably this portrait commission that gave Renoir the funds to rent a house in the Montmartre neighborhood. There, he worked on Ball at the Moulin de la Galette, set at a Montmartre dance hall, and a few other non-commissioned paintings.

“Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting” runs through May 13. Visit the Frick exhibition site for more details.

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