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Renoir of a certain age

February 13, 2010 |  9:30 am

Renoir Severely crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, 71-year-old painter Pierre Auguste Renoir agreed in 1912 to one last attempt at walking. But when the doctor lifted him from his wheelchair, Renoir managed to go just a few steps before he told the doctor that to walk would take “all my willpower, and I would have none left for painting. If I have to choose between walking and painting, I’d much rather paint.” 

Renoir never did walk again, filmmaker Jean Renoir recalled in his book, “Renoir, My Father,” but he did indeed paint successfully for many more years. He would be brought into his studio, then seated in front of a canvas where a paintbrush would be placed into his fist, a piece of cloth protecting his immobilized fingers from the brush’s wooden handle. “The Bathers,” which Matisse called Renoir’s masterpiece, was completed the year Renoir died.

”The Bathers” is among the highlights of  “Renoir in the 20th Century,” opening at LACMA on Sunday. The first major show to focus on this period in Renoir’s career, the exhibition looks not at the better-known Impressionist works that made Renoir famous but rather at the very different work he produced his last 30 years. To suggest Renoir’s influence on modern French artists, the LACMA show juxtaposes Renoir’s paintings, sculpture and drawings alongside examples from Matisse, Picasso, Bonnard and Maillol.

Like Shakespeare and Beethoven, Cezanne and Picasso, some would say Renoir made the most of his later years. You can read more about late style in the arts in my article in Arts & Books. 

-- Barbara Isenberg

Image: Self-Portrait with White Hat, 1910. Courtesy Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris