“Renoir: The Body, The Senses,” which is being shown at the Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, this summer, is a special exhibition that, as a starting point, draws from its permanent collection. A beautifully illustrated catalogue accompanies this survey of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s work and career influences. I suggest the book as later reading because you don’t want to lessen the impact of seeing the actual paintings on view through September 22.
Renoir’s artworks are paired throughout the multi-gallery show with paintings by close friends Paul Cézanne and Edgar Degas and other masterworks that were of inspiration to the artist. There are also related paintings by early modernists including the work of Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger whose work brings a dimension to the show that explores Renoir’s legacy of influence, an important aspect of the exhibit because it is a fresh avenue to consider when measuring Renoir’s achievement.
Although The Clark has quite a number of Renoirs in its permanent collection, global loans from other institutions were necessary to assemble the impressive group of paintings, preliminary drawings, pastels and sculptures that comprise the show. Work came from as far away as Japan. Audience momentum moving from one painting to the next reveals depth of content about Renoir’s career experience. There is a visual conversation that feels organic in style as the painter connects to the world he observes.
In term of classical influences, Renoir’s work is paired with Italian artists he found influential and whose styles he emulated. Artworks by Sandro Botticelli, Raphael and Peter Paul Rubens — all great colorists, technicians and draftsmen — were a very strong influence. Renoir’s stylistic development was also affected by the decorative painters of his day such as François Boucher. It should be noted that like many artists in France of his time, Renoir highly regarded the paintings of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.