Renoir

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Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Title: Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children, (1878).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a French painter, printmaker, and sculptor. He is one of the most prominent founders and leading exponents of the Impressionist style of painting from the late 1860s. “Renoir’s art is a celebration of the beauty of women and nature; his images both of modern Parisian life and of idealized figures in a timeless landscape suggest an enchanted and radiant world”. (Langdon) In 1878, Renoir broke away from the Impressionist exhibitions to return to the official Salon, where he achieved great success for his work, Madame Charpentier and her Children. Renoir is the modern painter of femininity. In Madame Charpentier and Her Children, he reflects an expression of beauty that is not easy to understand at first glance. He has gone beneath the surface of life and depicts in the characters some “unexpected, elemental and ineradicable instincts which link us, in spite of all our sophistication, with wild nature. In Madame Charpentier and Her Children, we can see that motherhood is something more than respectable.” (Fry) Renoir adds an element of interest in human beings which distinguishes him from the rest of his Impressionist practitioners.

Renoir was greatly influenced by Monet in such works as La Grenouillere (1869). His use of large broken brushstrokes and delicately applied flecks of paint suggest atmosphere, and shows his fascination of the true effect and importance of light on the surface of things without restraint. “Renoir is not like the majority, but a revolutionary. He is not analytical, scientific and destructive. He is a purely poetical and constructive genius. He has followed a certain inspiration with naive directness and simplicity of spirit.” (Fry) Renoir sympathizes with the human element between himself and his models which is visible in Madame Charpentier and Her Children.

Madame Charpentier was Renoir’s most influential friend and commissioner. She was the wife of Georges Charpentier, who was a famous publisher of the works of the best young authors of the time. It is through Madame Charpentier that Renoir was able to meet all the important figures in art, literature, music, and politics. Renoir’s son, Jean, wrote “Her salon was celebrated and deservedly so, for she was indeed a great lady and had succeeded in reviving the atmosphere of the famous salons of the past. Every one of note in the literary world attended those Friday gatherings. Charpentier was definitely on the side of the young painters, even before they came to be known as Impressionists.” (Renoir)

The scale of Madame Charpentier and Her Children is grande, measuring at 157.7 X 190.2 centimeters. One historian claimed that Renoir worked, “slowly and patiently...and required a great many sittings.” (Bailey) In this painting, the thirty-year-old, Madame Charpentier is seated on a sofa covered in floral tapestry, the train of her black dress spread out full length to one side with traditionally designed white lace. Her corsage is decorated by a brooch in the form of a daisy or chrysanthemum, and in her left hand she clasps a small golden ornamental ladies case or bag. She rests a protective arm above the head of her three-year-old son, Paul Emile Charles. Like his eldest sister, Georgette Berthe, he wears the same blue and white frilly dress, which was in accordance with the fashion at the time. “Her daughter Georgette sits atop Porthos, the indulgent Newfoundland that accompanied the family on its lengthy holidays.” (Bailey)

Colin B. Bailey explicitly describes the background of Madame Charpentier and Her Children in his book, Renoir’s Portaits: Impressions of an Age;

“ Renoir filled in the background with a Japanese screen and an arrangement of fruit and flowers on a small table.The room itself appears to be spacious, but somewhat furnished for the time. In the background to the right, in front of the...
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