The final decades of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s life are often depicted with a tragic bent, the crippled artist slashing at his canvases with paintbrushes strapped to his useless hands.
That image is at best a distorted exaggeration. Captured on two remarkable fragments of film near the end of his life, Renoir is stricken by rheumatoid arthritis, his hands clenched into what must have been painful fists – but he clearly can hold his brushes and paints with obvious joy and good humor.
That pair of cinematic images, which close the Museum’s new exhibition covering the last 30 years of Renoir’s life, merely echoes what has become obvious in the 79 paintings and sculptures that precede them: The artist’s late period comprises a body of work that is tremendously celebratory and beautiful.
“Artists don’t just wake up one morning and decide to enter the late stage of their careers,” said curator Jennifer Thompson at the outset of a tour of “Late Renoir.” But Renoir’s work did take a decidedly new turn beginning in 1890, when the artist was 50. The bold, prismatic color schemes of the Impressionists were gone, replaced by soft, lush colors and fluid brushwork.
The exhibition takes visitors through three decades of development, domestic scenes giving way to classically inspired female nudes as colors and forms taking on an increasing sensuality and vivacity.