Family tenderness, -- that was the personal and most characteristic sentiment which Renoir reinstalled in art. Impressionism in its entirety was an art of tenderness: the tenderness of Monet and Pissarro towards « fresh woods and pastures new », the stiff yet timid tenderness of Degas towards our poor but arresting humanity, and the suppressed tenderness of Toulouse-Lautrec towards the slaves of pleasure in our large cities. Renoir's tenderness was that of health, -- the tenderness of the good companion, the father, brother, or friend, -- tenderness towards woman and the mother and, above all, towards children. With Berthe Morisot he was in agreement to complete the cycle of family tenderness.
In his tenderness towards woman, Renoir centred all his tenderness in her as a being; but he saved himself from animality through his predilection (even in the case of his pictures of women bathing) for her face. As he viewed it, the face was the eyes and the mouth, -- all the rest was but a caress. The very body of La Source or of Mademoiselle Samary, the souls of both of them making their appeal through their pupils, is but a support and a spring-board for the eyes. The eyes and the mouth, -- that is to say, every woman, however ugly, becomes beautiful and attractive through these.
This is the transposition, in the human body, of the whole passion of impressionism: water, light, and reflections. But the eyes and the mouth are the portals of the human being leading towards the soul and into the flesh. Renoir immediately sought for what was most living, most personal, and in the most vulgar of faces he discovered originality. All Renoir's faces are built up for the sake of the eyes and the mouth; the nose is not over important: it is especially devoid of a prominent bony structure, he makes it a discreet connection, an undulating passage between the cheeks; it is a short and even slightly turned up nose so as to leave the lips well disengaged. The foreheads are low so that the hair may accompany at a sufficient distance the brilliancy of the eyes without isolating them or giving them a heavy look. The cheeks are round and commonplace, avoiding all distraction, and the complexion brings forth the full value of lips and pupils.
As far as painting went, Baudelaire swore by Delacroix and the twilight beauties of an art that by now had become pointless. It is true that he encouraged Manet's early efforts, but he had nothing to give him in the way of effective support or guidance. He seems to have urged him "to go Spanish," though for the painter himself this was only a passing phase, not to say a dead end. The only pictures he is known to have genuinely liked are those curious compositions, often very fine, that Manet made in Paris, generally from such Spanish models as he could find to pose for him. One of the best of these is The Spanish Ballet, in which he blended "what he saw" with a desire to achieve an exotic effect. Similar to these is Baudelaire's Mistress; here, on the basis of a brilliant simplification, Manet transposed the merely picturesque into a delicate fugue of lace and calico.
Baudelaire was fond of such pictures, though probably he courted the younger man's admiration ( Manet was eleven years his junior) more than he really admired his work. Manet came of a wealthy family, lent him money in times of need (at his death in 1867 he owed Manet 500 francs, which were paid by his mother, Madame Aupick) and generously rendered him various services in Paris while Baudelaire was away in Belgium.
Champion of an inspired, intensely personal art, a brilliant rather than a profound mind, Baudelaire had little to give Manet apart from the stimulus of friendship, the awareness of an inner world and the promise of secret riches for the man willing to go in quest of them. This was a gift precious enough in itself, but no doubt it only served to mystify Manet. Yet he must have taken to heart not only Baudelaire's fundamental maxim, to the effect that beauty is "always a little strange," but also this reflection of the poet's, which occurs in his review of the 1845 Salon: "The painter, the true painter to come, will be he who wrests from the contemporary scene its epic side and shows us, through line and color, how great and poetic we are in our cravats and patent-leather boots."
By 1860 Concert at the Tuileries--in which we see Baudelaire himself, mingling with the crowd--had met these specifications, but it is not likely that the poet thought very highly of the picture. Though he reverted many times to themes of contemporary life, the painter of Olympia somehow always eluded the formal laws his friend laid down. Manet only deferred to Baudelaire's theories in one respect: he valued imagination (though this was precisely what he lacked) above nature, and this pitted him squarely against the trend of his time.
Manet never raised his voice or sought to lord it over others. He suffered in silence and worked hard to get clear of what, for him, was a wasteland. Nothing and nobody could help him. In this venture his only guide was a kind of impersonal anguish. It was not the painter's anguish alone, for it had spread, though they did not realize it, to the scoffers and revilers as well, who lay in wait for the paintings which were so repulsive to them then, but which in time filled the yawning emptiness of their hollow souls.
Manet, on whom their repulsion fed, was the exact opposite of the man who is possessed by an idée fixe, a personal image constantly before him that he must continually renew and vary at all costs. The solutions Manet tested out were not solutions for himself alone. What inspired him as much as anything was the prospect, for him an act of grace, of entering a new world of forms which would deliver him, and with him the others, from the bondage, the monotony, the falsehood of art forms that had served their time.
Auguste Renoir, Ball at the Moulin De La Galette, Young Girls on the River Bank, Impressionism, Girls Picking Flowers in a Meadow, Picking Flowers, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, The Apple Seller, Alice Gamby in the Garden, Young Girl Sitting in the Grass, Dance at Bougival, Little Algerian Girl, Reading Woman, Deux Soeurs, Alphonsine Fournaise at the Grenouillere, Young Girls at the Piano, L'Estaque, Yvonne et Jean, La Baigneuse, In the Luxembourg Gardens, Jeune Fille Blonde, Auguste Renoir Portraits, Dahlias, The Little Fisherwoman (Marthe Berard), The Excursionist, On the Terrace, Baigneuse Au Griffon, Bather with Griffon, Lady with a Parasol, The Pond at Fees, La Loge
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