A walk with Renoir

25

Dear Artist,

Not many hikers are on the Grand Randonnee in the Cevennes this time of year. You’d think in a country the size of France the public footpaths would always be busy. But no one is around, save a few mushroom-gatherers quietly moving in the undergrowth. My hiking companion, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, has just turned 166, but he keeps right up with me. He’s great company and has an opinion on everything.

Pierre-Auguste-Renoir_Luncheon-of-the-Boating-Party-

“Luncheon of the boating party”
oil on canvas 1880-81
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

“If a painting is not a pleasure to me I will certainly not do it,” he says. He seems not to want to stop until he feels the pleasure coming on — then he announces “Here.” “You learn about painting,” he says, “not by looking at nature, but by looking at your painting.” Renoir is a walking encyclopedia — music, politics, history, the plight of the poor, oppression, freedom, religion and, of course, painting. Squeezing out paint, he says, “Pissarro has written that you must banish black from your palette as a useless colour. I’ve found it’s only with black you can infuse lightness into your painting. Titian said a great painter is one who can use black, and I would rather take Titian’s advice than Pissarro’s.” He laments we cannot yet take music freely with us into the field. “It must be difficult with the violin,” he says, “just as it is in painting, to find the right tone straight off.”

renoir_woman-with-a-parasol

“Woman with a Parasol”
oil on canvas 1873
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Renoir works in a distinctly fuzzy manner. He looks at my painting in dismay. “Too hard,” he says. Renoir’s arthritic hands are an impediment, but he keeps smiling. “The pain passes, but the beauty remains,” he says. We move on to politics. “Socialism is doing so much evil,” he says. “It has deprived people, particularly the workers, of religion, which was such a consolation to them. A working man isn’t any happier with fewer working hours, for a man with no work gets up to no good.” We both agree that bars are bad. “Work should be its own reward,” he goes on, “and the only reward one should offer an artist is to buy his work.” Not meaning any malice, I tell him his painting is particularly pretty. “Why shouldn’t art be pretty?” he says, “There are enough unpleasant things in the world.”

It’s getting dark and distinctly colder. A half kilometer farther on, in the village of Chasserades, there’s a small hotel. We can warm up in there. We’re looking for a country stew or a cassoulet, and a bottle of vin du pays at the bar. Tomorrow will be another day.

Pierre-Auguste-Renoi_Girl-crocheting

“A Girl Crocheting”
oil on canvas 1875
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Religion is everywhere. It is in the mind, in the heart, in the love you put into what you do.” (Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1841-1919)

Esoterica: A good book to take with you when hiking in France is The Impressionists at First Hand, edited by Bernard Denvir. In it are excerpts from the journal of Julie Morisot (Manet), Berthe Morisot ‘s teenage daughter, who also happened to be Edouard Manet’s niece. Julie kept remarkable, insightful records on some of the Impressionists, including Renoir, whom she particularly admired. Most of these quotes are verbatim from Julie’s journal. I’m just a bit in love with Julie, too. Unfortunately, her delightful journal ceases after her marriage to one of Degas’ students.

This letter was originally published as “A walk with Renoir” on December 19, 2006.

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25 Comments

  1. Sara, thank you for paging into Bob’s journal occasionally. Today Renoir has panned out numerous info nuggets while on his conversational walk with your father. I have read them several times now & jotted some down to savour. I am very glad that you write and grateful that you let us remember your dad’s writing charm.

  2. Love this letter. I’ve tramped through the French countryside a number of times and felt the presence of other artists. Maybe they camp out in their favourite spots and visit only those who would be open to their tutelage, as Robert would have been.

    • A lovely piece of writing. A very dear friend lost his wife last week, and I have found it difficult to find the right thoughts to offer. This morning you provided words of Renoir, which I have now sent: “The pain passes, but the beauty remains”. Thank you.

      • Doug – thank you so much for sharing. I am deeply grieving at this time and your comment about sharing Renoir’s sentiment “The pain passes, but the beauty remains” has helped ease the pain, at least a bit. I guess it is true, we never know in what way we may touch another’s life. Sincere gratitude to you!

      • Doug, I too am grieving the recent loss of my husband and found these words,”The pain passes but the beauty remains” so appropriate and moving. Thank you Sarah for continuing the thoughtful articles and letters your father wrote and adding your own views which are so inspiring to those of us lucky enough to read them.

  3. Thanks for this. I love Renoir’s take on black. Give me light! Good balance between Robert’s older writings and Sara – your contemporary and very insightful view. Keep painting – it’s what we do!

  4. Bernard Victor on

    Have just ordered the book. Have eaten at the restaurant in Renoir’s painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party”. It has been restored and is just like the painting. Wonderful meal.

  5. Renoir would have envied our contemporary ability to take music with us anywhere! Music- dance and movement are such an integrated facet of my art production that I can’t imagine working without it for very long. But my art production is my religion- so nice to know I’m not alone in that. One needs no exterior god when one is fully connected to the universal Creative Force. One needs no man-made religion either.

    • Bruce: “One needs no exterior god when one is fully connected to the universal Creative Force. One needs no man-made religion either.” Amen to this!

      Sara: Brilliant and imaginative; a very beautiful writing and sentiments… thank you for sharing your father’s experiences with us. I enjoy reading them.

  6. You’ve done it again Sara
    Pierre August Renoir was my Moses as a girl – I saw his work a truly good and grand LIFE message for me, looking for guidance as I grew and aimed at my adult life. HIs lights are only better brought out by the darks that contrast but do not discourage.
    I liked the health in his paintings – messages of color and form and pleasure in even the simple moment. Oddly enough , I married a Pierre and we named our son the same.

    Thank you again

    Elle

    Experiment:
    I have put a SiteWide password at my site…..my Mother is in her last days and I am feeling sensitive….Curious as to who will click to email for an immediate reply with the password and then enter it.
    the site is new and not promoting it normally yet, so this project is fun to do.

    e.

  7. hi sara, I loved this old post. if you or others want to follow in the foot steps of renior and the other impressionists I’d modestly recommend my two books, “guide to impressioinist landscape” and “guide to impressionist paris“. both are out of print but used copies can easily be found. standing where these artists actually stood when they did their now famous paintings is still thrill, at least for me. I live in paris and frequently feel renior and the others still tipping their brushes in my direction. love,kisses patty

  8. Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful letter from your dad, it is very inspiring. I have always loved Renoir for his paintings and wisdom and good common sense, and for his love of life. It sounds like him and your dad would get a long very well.

  9. What sticks with me is ‘If a painting is not a pleasure to me, I certainly wouldn’t do it’, Renoir. I feel the same way. Unfortunately, my orientation turned out to be portraiture. I get a kick out of capturing likenesses. Fortunately, my livelihood does not depend on commissions. There’s too much client involved in commissions. From past experience, Clients can be very pushy and kill the pleasure. What they don’t realize is they also kill the painting. I am very fortunate indeed to be able to let my eye and fascination choose my subjects, not my purse; most other portrait artists are not so lucky. The art life is much more fulfilling when personal pleasure is your guide.

    • I TOO AM ORIENTATED AS A PORTRAITIST, AND BEING A LONG TIME ARTIST, AND BEING NINETY ON MY NEXT BIRTHDAY, I PAINT PORTRAITS OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS, AND DO SO GRATIS,,,THAT IS MY PLEASURE….I DO HAVE A FEE FOR STRANGERS, AND OFTEN TURN DOWN A COMMISSION BECAUSE I DON’T FEEL I WOULD ENJOY PAINTING IT…..MY LOVE OF LIFE LEFT FOR HEAVEN THIRTEEN YEARS AGO, AFTER FIFTY FIVE YEARS OF MARRIAGE.. PAST COMMENTS ABOVE ABOUT GRIEF PASSING WITH BEAUTY HAS NOT OCCURRED WITH ME, TO THE SAME EFFORT TO GET OVER MY LOSS, I FOUND MY BEST THERAPY WAS PAINTING THIS STUNNING WIFE AT DIFFERENT TIMES DURING HER LIFE, AND FEELING HER PRESENCE WHILE DOING SO….BUT BECOMING OVER MY GRIEF, NEVER.

  10. I really enjoyed this writing for a couple of reasons. Black is used in Renoir’s work to create a distinct interest in his choice of lights and darks that show mood and emotion. i remember studying his work when it came to the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was such a treat to observe his impressionistic brushwork. I also agree with the idea that we, as artists, have a choice of what to paint. So as Renoir states, “There are enough unpleasant things in the world.”!

    Thank you, Sara, for sharing!

  11. It is so wonderful to feel the advantage and struggles of those who have gone before us in art. I feel so blessed that they have given us so much and have passed that learning to us in their paintings, voices and writings.

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