Renoir - need help finding a scholarly critique of his work.

Well, the title of this thread pretty much sums it up. I am looking for help finding a reasonably respected, even scholarly, critique of Renoir’s painting. Some quick background and comments:

  1. I am NOT a student needing help on a paper. I am a fully-employed fellow curious about this on a purely personal basis.

  2. Without boring you with too many details, I have found myself in a discussion/debate with a friend where I am trying to defend the position that Renoir, compared to other Impressionists, is not of the same caliber. While Renoir’s technique was wonderful, his typical subject matter veered more towards Society portraits or easy topics, whereas Monet, Manet, Degas and others were more provocative. What I am looking for is a reference from someone more authoritative than myself discussing his work relative to the other Impressionists.

  3. NOTE - I know many, many people out there, including many Dopers, LOVE Renoir. If you are one of them, that’s very cool - I completely respect that. You do NOT need to post to this thread to defend him - his reputation will not suffer one bit because lowly me is try to move a discussion forward with a buddy of mine. But if you know of any articles, essays or other things that support my line of thinking, I would appreciate knowing about them…

Thank you for your time.

Have you tried your local public library or maybe a local academic library? If you have a small public library you might want to ask them if they can search OCLC and send for some information for you. OCLC is the Online Computer Library Center–a database used by academic and large public libraries throughout the world to catalog their collections. This may be a good starting point for you.

Just popping in to say thanks, WordMan – I’ve never been a big fan of Renoir’s, and have garnered some pretty strange looks over the years for voicing that opinion. (The rosy flesh, the Hallmark moments – bleh.)

I’m also not big on Cezanne, but suspect that’s just an idiosyncratic thing – I “understand” his greatness, but it doesn’t speak to me.

Hey Twickster - this is one where I get enough people agreeing with me that I think there is some merit to it, but I try to be VERY careful - IANA Art Scholar, and history suggests I am in the minority, so I try to be as respectful as I can.

I did a quick Google to see what I could find (maybe Duck Duck Goose, with her web research expertise, would do much better), but all I could find were numerous comments about Renoir celebrating pleasure and focusing on the simple things - both of which could be used to support my point, that he chose unchallenging things to paint and therefore, for want of a better term, is more “easy listening” that substantive, but there wasn’t enough in the comments to really bolster my argument.

There was a comment from Pisarro saying that Renoir was not a good draughtsman, so when he (Renoir) was going through a period of not painting with color, he was not doing well, because he wasn’t playing to his strength, but my argument is not that his technique is poor…

I’m taking the day off. If it’s nice this afternoon, I’m going to be in the garden. If not … maybe I’ll poke around on the computer and see what I can find.

Hmm. My two cents.
Renoir taking easy unprovocative subjects while Monet and Degas were taking a stand? Interesting. . . what would a “challenging” Monet or Degas look like?
I think that of the crowd you mentioned Manet was the risky one (thinking of Olympia, Bar at Folies Bergere, Dejeuner sur l’herbe, etc). In fact, though, with the exception of Manet, I don’t see any of the artists you name really using substantively different kinds of subject matter.

But I think that you are looking back on Impressionist subject matter (bourgeoise leisure time, modern city life) with the luxury of hindsight-- it was actually quite novel at the moment–this subject matter was relatively daring and new-- middle class lifestyle was not a common subject before then.
I personally, though, can’t stand Degas.

Again, I would like to stay focused on Renoir, capybara, but I respect your question. I would say that Degas’ portrayal of real-life subjects - I am thinking of the Cotton Market and the ballet lessons - were more daring that Renoir’s society portraits, not to mention Degas’ paintings of women doing their toilette - portraying them in unflattering positions, etc., all very provocative. As for your not liking Degas, that is certainly your call.

As for Monet - I am thinking of his Series paintings mostly - the Cathedral, the Seine, the Poplars, etc. I don’t know of other painters at the time so focused on time/light series of paintings - Monet’s series may not have been scandalous or provocative in the way Manet was, but they were daring and innovative, to my knowledge, which is what I am commenting on.

I think I do appreciate that aspect of Impressionism - I love Caillebote and his paintings of leisure time, floor scrapers and a Paris street on a rainy day (which is also innovative for its use of a photography-like perspective and cropping of the scene). But Renoir, for the most part, painted society portraits and pretty girls, which, to my mind, does not compare with the examples discussed above. YMMV

Again, I am curious if anyone with an Art background knows of anyone in a position to comment in a more authoritative or scholarly way that I can has discussed Renoir in this way. Has any Art Historian or Impressionist expert more or less said “yes, well Renoir is the most superficial of the bunch” or “his was an Impressionist hand, but his subject matter was the least controversial, which probably played a role in the fame he enjoyed” or something like that?


Just to give Dopers with different online schedules another shot…