The Frick has begun to stream its lectures, so you don’t have to be on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to attend. The inaugural offering – all free of charge – was an overview by deputy director Colin Bailey about Renoir’s full-length figure paintings from 1874 to 1885, ten of which are the subject of a show he curated (on view through May 13). Bailey illustrated his talk with archival photographs, prints, related paintings, fashion ads, and all sorts of correspondence and other documents to conjure Renoir’s personal life and the dynamics of his career. It was interesting to discover that Albert Barnes had made an offer for Renoir’s La Promenadethe year before Henry Clay Frick bought it, and that Frick, who preferred Old Masters, had planned to return it, though of course he decided not to.
Bailey uncovered these details in researching the catalogue that accompanies his show in the East Room. The highlight is Dance at Bougival flanked by Dance in the Country and Dance in the City – a trio of life-size figure paintings with wall power. I would place the Dance at Bougival, from the MFA Boston, among Renoir’s finest paintings, along with Ball at the Moulin de la Galette in the Musee d’Orsay, Luncheon of the Boating Party at the Phillips, Madame Charpentier with her Children at the Metropolitan, perhaps the violin-playing Clown in Oterlo, and I suppose the Great Bathers in Philadelphia. I’m partial also to a radiant sunlit view over the Seine in the National Gallery’s new installation of its French and other paintings. Say what you wish about Renoir’s candy-box confections of Parisian society, the man could paint.
When the Met mounted a show about the dealer Ambrose Vollard, a highlight for me was the brief Gaumont film that captured the aging Renoir receiving his dealer in the studio. In an instant Renoir rose from the frozen annals of art history as a breathing human being. It was a humbling and quietly astonishing experience that recalibrated my sense of the man. Here is a similar clip [no longer available] that has the same effect. Bailey’s lecture furthered my education.
An excerpt of his talk is online [no longer available] and within a week the full lecture will be here [no longer available]. (Be advised, the programs are preceded by an ad.) The Renoir program continues with talks about the artist’s mistress (Feb. 22), his portrayal of Parisian women (March 7), his attention to fashion (March 28) and his career as portraitist (April 4). But first there is a talk about former Frick director Charles Ryskamp’s collecting (Feb. 15). For a complete listing click here.
– Jason Kaufman
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