Monday, May 10, 2010

Around Town - Renoir versus American Stories at LACMA

Another week started with total craziness...goods going here and there and now the need to gear up for the Antique and Estate Jewelry Show in Las Vegas which is coming up in a couple of weeks.
At least I had the perfect Mother's Day: two art exhibits, an exquisite afternoon in the sun and an early dinner with the kids.
Happily, I made it to the last day of the Renoir in the 20th Century exhibit at LACMA.
With the entire 2nd floor of the Broad building filled with Renoir, I can say that a huge effort was made to, as the LA Times review states, overturn the conventional wisdom. that late Renoir was bad art.
Here's the contested rap on Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Following success at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, when he was 33, plus another decade's worth of heady achievement, his paintings went steadily downhill. After his death in 1919, conventional wisdom began to solidify: Late Renoir is bad Renoir.
After seeing this show my opinion remains conventional, Renoir's late works were pretty bad except perhaps for the influence that they had on other artists such as Bonnard and Maillol.

Bathing Girl by Renoir
Don't get me wrong, I loved the early work by Renoir, all lightness and froth and luminosity, but the late work of fleshy females and wanna be Titianesque classicism I found to be trite. Furthermore, I particularly disliked the way that Renoir, who had earlier created portraiture with specific character definition in the faces of his subjects, reverted to a style where the faces of many of his females were undefined and childlike and totally without individualization.
Where others might have looked at the expressions on the faces of the females and found them contemplative or perhaps seen a intimate glimpse of girls caught in their own dream world, I found the expressions to be unaware to the point of being catatonic.
So for me the late Renoir paintings just became a bevy of interchangeable buxom, big bottomed, pretty soft pastel colors....kind of like soft core porn early 20th Century about the objectification of women!

The Serenade by Renoir
Much more exciting to see was American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915 featuring works from Peele, Copley, Sargent, Chase, Homer, Eakins, Cassatt and many more. The exhibit featured a small but astounding group of American masterpieces, including five great paintings by Homer, which the LA Times review describes as almost worth the cost of the ticket alone.
But I was particularly impressed with this portrait.
Portrait of Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley
From the Times review an excellent description:
A few portraits also make an appearance. They include Copley's classic 1768 depiction of Paul Revere, silversmith and Revolutionary War hero, in shirtsleeves. His chin is contemplatively held in his right hand, a handsomely crafted silver teapot cradled in his left.
The teapot of course nods toward the critical role of tea in the New World's economy. A year before, Britain's Parliament fiddled with the tea tax; results were devastating for colonists. (Witness Revere's grim, shadowed face.) The subsequent Boston Tea Party was an insurrection against a corporate stranglehold on trade, held by the British East India Company working with George III. Copley's brilliant image fuses head and hand as tools for thought, labor and moral action. The portrait describes a person, but it places him in the context of an epic story.

The painting -- as sleek and elegantly crafted as Revere's light-reflective silver -- puts artists in that developing story too. Copley is as much an agent of thought, labor and action as Revere is, and his work speaks to the present as much as to history.
Boys in a Pasture by Winslow Homer
And then there were the Homers, the famous ones including the carefree Breezing Up and the menacing Gulf Stream. I think that my favorite was Eagle Head, Manchester, Massachusetts (High Tide) which depicted three young women drying their long bathing dresses on the beach after swimming. It was certainly not one of Homer's best, but it had the promise of a story not yet told of the activities of women during the 1870s.
The American Stories show will be at LACMA through May 23rd and I highly recommend that you see it.
Digg this


La Belette Rouge said...

I went to the Renoir show. I haven't seen the American Stories. I keep meaning to get back. You have inspired me. I keep hearing wonderful things about it.

And I love your description of Renoir's as "soft core porn early 20th Century style". It is so true and yet somehow if one is an old master they then get free reign to have soft core porn be a high art.;-)

Looking Fab in your forties said...

I must admit I wouldn't want that picture of the two girls with all the floral around them, even if you gave it to me! Their faces look distorted.

Belle de Ville said...

Belette, you absolutely must go see the American paintings.
Fab, oh I beg to spite of the distorted faces, if someone gave me that Renoir I say nothing but nice things about it...until I sold it at auction!

Angie Muresan said...

Never thought that about Renoir's women, but since you've mentioned it I must say I agree. Too bad I live too far away, I would love to see the American paintings.

Add to Technorati Favorites