The Room of Flowers

Childe Hassam, The Room of Flowers, 1894
Childe Hassam, The Room of Flowers, 1894

You know what I like about art? I’ll never see it all. Here’s an American Impressionist whom I’ve never heard of, and his painting is one I’d hang in my family room, to remind me that rooms do not have to be neat and clutter-free. This room is delightful! Did you even notice the lady reading? I didn’t right away. I discovered her feet first. She is lost in her book and in all the lovely stuff around her. Those walls! I would love walls covered in art. I would get nothing done all day, but I would love it anyway.

Renoir, My Father

The Luncheon of the Boating Party at Bougival, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880-81
The Luncheon of the Boating Party at Bougival, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880-81

I finished reading the biography of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, written by his son, Jean Renoir. Renoir is French, and I never really adjusted myself to all the French words and cities in the book. It bugs me when I have no idea how to pronounce something. Other than that, I enjoyed the book because it had so much to do with a little boy seeing his father through little boy eyes and not through art historian eyes. Renoir seems not-so-strange. He was ambitious. He had some idiosyncrasies. He looked strange because of his severe rheumatism. But he was a father, protective, anxious for his children, thinking about their well-being. By the end of the book, I was convinced that Jean’s mother, Renoir’s wife Aline, is the real superhero in the family. She devoted her life to keeping Renoir happy. She was his servant. They moved around frequently for his health and also for his art, and it was Mother who bought houses, arranged parties, brought in friends to cheer up Renoir. She worked hard. In the painting, she is the one looking at the dog. Renoir is the one gazing in her direction, sitting backward in his chair. Aline grew to be quite stout, which was apparently an honorable thing in that culture. Renoir stayed thin. He cared more for painting than eating.

At the end of his life, crippled and terrified that he wouldn’t be able to paint, Renoir did what exercises he could do: juggling, twirling a wooden block. He had to give up more and more of these things, but he managed to paint until the end. I liked the descriptions of his very clean palette, the dabs of paint he used in their correct order, his meticulousness. One of the author’s jobs was to help clean the brushes at the end of the day.

I also enjoyed making connections between Renoir and his contemporary artists. It’s fun to read about a meeting between such folks as Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Degas, and Morisot. Now I want to read more about Paul Cezanne because in this book he seems like such a crusty character!

Renoir’s Gabrielle

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gabrielle Mending, 1908
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gabrielle Mending, 1908

I’m reading a book about Renoir, which you’ll likely hear more about in a later post. It is interesting to learn who the people in the paintings are. Gabrielle, for instance, is a cousin of Aline (Renoir’s wife) who came to live with the Renoir family to be a nanny. She later did some modeling for Renoir, and there are many paintings of Gabrielle. According to the book I am reading, Gabrielle was quite the spirited girl. Knowing some of the stories about the people in Renoir’s paintings adds a new spin to appreciating his art. These are real people–family members, friends, admirers, fellow artists. They are not anonymous models, all face and no history. As much as the Impressionists wanted to portray an impression of the moment, their paintings still have background, weight, and shadows of the past.

The Luncheon of the Boating Party

The Luncheon of the Boating Party at Bougival, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880-81
The Luncheon of the Boating Party at Bougival, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880-81

Do you relate to any of the people in this party? It’s what I like about this painting: so many personalities. None of the females seem to be like me, but that’s okay. I’m content to be the onlooker to this happy little crowd. Take some time to follow each person’s gaze. Not many of them are looking at each other. I believe that is an artist trick to move the viewer’s gaze around the painting.

Monet’s Water Lilies

Le Bassin des Nympheas, Claude Monet, 1904
Le Bassin des Nympheas, Claude Monet, 1904

This painting (or else another very similar Monet water lily painting) holds a special place in my memories. I saw it in person when I went to the Art Institute of Chicago with my art history class in college. It was the painting I chose to write about for class. I don’t remember the essay very well, but I do remember contemplating the distinctions (in this case, lack of distinctions) between abstraction and realism. It looks like a pond with water lilies in it. It also looks like an abstraction–a painting that has more to do with colors and brushstrokes than water lilies and water. It is in this gray area that I like to rest my thoughts. A place where memory and imagination, prayer and words from books swim freely together, unhindered by the time of day or the real people in the house with me. It’s not a complete dream-world; it’s somewhere between dreams and reality. It might be my favorite place to be.