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Passion for Renoir Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Museo del Prado is holding the first monographic exhibition devoted to Renoir in Spain. For the first time in Europe it will show 31 of the paintings by Renoir housed at the Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, Massachusetts), the American museum that possesses one of the most important holdings of Renoir’s works. Through this exceptional loan of almost all the Institute’s paintings by the artist, and during the more than three months of the exhibition’s duration, the Prado will be able to demonstrate the breadth and importance of Renoir’s artistic ideas through the principal genres in which he worked: portraiture, the female figure, the nude, landscape, still life and flowers.

Passion for Renoir

The artistic career of Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), one of the leading figures of Impressionism, is characterised by an all-absorbing passion for painting that led him to achieve great renown and popularity among his contemporaries. The outstanding group of 31 works by the artist, which are the finest among the collection of paintings by Renoir assembled by the American collector Robert Sterling Clark (1877-1956), founder of the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute (Williamstown), will be displayed at the Prado in the first monographic exhibition to be held on the artist in Spain.

The core of the collection of paintings from the Clark Institute originates in the large group of Impressionist works assembled by Sterling and Francine Clark over the course of four decades. For the Clarks, Pierre-Auguste Renoir represented the quintessence of Impressionism and as a result they acquired more than 35 of his paintings, including some of his most important creations. Among them are the Self-portrait (ca.1875), a painting whose technique departs from Renoir’s habitual delicacy to offer a notably powerful expressivity; Portrait of Madame Monet (ca.1874), which spans the boundary between portraiture and genre painting and deploys an unconventional type of fragmented brushstroke; The Wash-House at Bas-Meudon (ca.1874), and The Bridge at Chatou (ca.1875), which are highly experimental landscapes dating from Renoir’s finest Impressionist period; “La Loge” (The Theatre Box) (1880), which uses strong tonal contrasts of blacks and whites and avoids the predominantly blue palette that had characterised Renoir’s work over the previous five years; Peonies (ca.1880), one of the artist’s most magnificent flower paintings and an example of the way in which he delighted in filling his canvases to the edges without leaving any empty space; Onions (1881), a fluidly painted and informal but carefully structured composition that was Sterling Clark’s favourite work by the artist; and The Bath (Girl arranging her Hair) (1885), one of the most precisely and exquisitely drawn of Renoir’s figures and the culmination of his mastery of the Impressionist technique.

Through this exceptional loan of almost the entire collection, which will be shown for the first time as group outside the Clark Institute, the exhibition will allow the Spanish public to appreciate the breadth and importance of Renoir’s ideas through works from the most important phases of his career, between 1874 and 1900, and through the principal genres in which he worked, namely portraiture, the female figure, the nude, landscape, still life and flowers. These works reveal the contribution made by Renoir to painting of his own day as well as the profound nature of his links to the great pictorial traditions of the past.

As with all the Impressionists, Renoir is an artist barely represented in Spanish public collections with the sole exception of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which, like the Clark Art Institute, has its origins in a private collection.

The Clark Institute was founded in the city of Williamstown (Massachusetts) through the generous patronage of the Clarks. The Institute’s Museum opened in 1955. The Impressionist paintings are especially notable among its rich and diverse holdings, while particularly outstanding within that group are the works by Renoir that form the basis of the present exhibition.

The catalogue

In the accompanying catalogue the entries are taken from the first catalogue raisonné of the 19th-century paintings collection in the Clark Institute, which was based on research undertaken by John House, the leading specialist in French Impressionism and Renoir. The catalogue will also include an article by James A. Ganz on Sterling Clark as a collector.