Monday, March 05, 2007

Looking at Renoir's Landscapes - with Sister Wendy

Champ de Bananiers (Field of Banana Trees) Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Oil on canvas 1881
Cat 55/X5673 Musee d'Orsay, Paris 1959

I heard the familiar voice first, then I realised I was standing next to somebody in a nun's habit and finally I drew a little distance away and looked a little bit harder to see if I was right - and I was. I'd been standing right next to Sister Wendy who was commenting to a lady on one of Renoir's Landscapes. I checked with Vivien and she agreed - definitely Sister Wendy. Presumably on a rare trip out?

Anyway, back to the exhibition. On Saturday, after nearly two hours looking at pastels, we staggered over the road and spent another hour and a half looking at the new exhibition of Renoir's Landscapes at the National Gallery which runs until 20 May. It then travels to the National Gallery of Canada and the Philadelphia Museum of Art later this year. Do take a look at both the reviews which I've linked below - they're both a good read - with somewhat differing perspectives.

My perspective - on what I've learned about Renoir's landscapes and what struck me as I viewed them - is summarised below. I've provided links to large images of the paintings generally sourced from The (invaluable) Atheneaum website:
  • Renoir frequently painted landscapes alongside other impressionists - who appear in his work along with their families (eg "Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil" 1873). It's fascinating to see how the same subject gets treated by artists within the same movement but with different styles.
  • Renoir tried the styles of others. He imitated the innovative techniques of Cezanne - eg painting using small parallel brushstrokes in "Rocky Crags at L'Estaque" (1882) - with not too much success in my opinion.
  • Unfortunately it appears, he was capable of producing some fairly awful landscapes! One has to wonder or not some were an experiment that failed although the mini-catalogue didn't seem to contemplate this pretty routine event in an artistic career, especially when one is experimenting with different styles and effects. I found the catalogue's suggestion that Renoir's gondola painting reminds one of paintings by John Singer Sargent to be incomprehensible! I'm with Brian Sewell on the quality of some of Renoir's work - although I disagree with him as to which were really awful! The Guardian's critic was much less forthright - in fact I am wondering whether we saw the same show.....
  • Styles used for landscapes varied a lot as he experimented with different ways of treating subjects. With some he's using very little paint and in others quite the reverse. Certain compositions and paintings in which he treated oil rather like watercolour produced what now seem to be very contemporary paintings that would not look out of place in 21st century contemporary art galleries (eg Landscape at Wargemont 1879). We liked this one - Sewell thinks it's an abomination!
  • He seems to have particularly revelled in overgrown, lush, complex vegetation - whether it was an overgrown path in a wood, or a garden which has run riot or a plantation of banana trees (eg Field of Banana Trees 1881). In my opinion, these seemed to be the more successful of the paintings.

Sketches of people looking at Renoir's landscapes
each is 8" x 10" in pencil and coloured pencil in a Moleskine sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

My sketches are of people looking at the landscapes, with the ubiquitous headsets for the audio guides much in evidence! The exhibition started with La Grenoiullere and had the Monet version and the Renoir version hanging side by side and I have to say that the Monet looked much better. Other Renoir landscapes featured in the sketches are "The Garden at the Rue Corot", "The Seine at Asnieres" aka "The Skiff" and "The Wheatfield"Click the links for larger versions of the paintings and on the images for much larger versions of the sketches.

And at the end of all this, due to major tube disruptions I ended up having to walk from the National Gallery to Chancery Lane to get home, which with my awful feet meant I very nearly had a major disruption to my instep. I was well and truly arted out!

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Casey Klahn said...

Hey, I was just over at Sister Wendy's site. She was saying how she was at the museum and saw Katherine Tyrell there!
"Brush with Fame," we call that.

Casey Klahn said...

Just kidding, of course.

Katherine said...

Casey - you do make me giggle!

Laura Wambsgans said...

Hi Katherine, I came to visit you at your blog since you were kind enough to spend a minute in "California". Your blog is amazing and so full of golden nuggets, I'll be visiting often. Also I saw William Wrays name, we were both in a competition last Friday night, he won 1st, I won 3rd, out of about 100. He is a truly wonderful painter and very kind artist. Meeting him at the reception showed me how small the world is since we are both daily painters. Anyway, you have a great blog and I have only scratched the surface. Laura

vivien said...

oh dear, so sorry about the long walk home :( it had been an exhausting day as well

I hope you are ok as you haven't posted today - and you normally do.

I nearly spoke to Sister Wendy but didn't - it must be really annoying to be waylaid like that - I wondered if the rest of the people even noticed her? noone seemed to.

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