An innocence which was rather that of ungrateful age than of adolescence; and it was to grow old. The Après-midi à Wargemont ( 1884), which the Bérard children spent so wisely, shut up in the drawing-room under the superintendance of a governess, shows all the defects of that ingratitude and all the hopes of youth. Renoir, in a vacuum, manufactured his own atmosphere and sought for a formula, as Monet, sixteen years before, had sought, by means of an inverse operation, the open-air formula. The tour of impressionism was accomplished.
So that in the portrait of Lucie Bérard, when he strove towards birth, it was modern art in its entirety which he called to his aid, -- the art of the miniaturists, the art of Clouet and Fontainebleau, the art of Piero della Francesca, the art of glaze and transparency, the art of our centuries of work, labour, and glory. The Baigneuse painted at Jersey in 1885, was a decorative study, a linear composition, a cartoon for tapestry. That was the period when Renoir was looking towards Versailles, its architectural composition, the ornamentation of its gardens, Girardon's decorative and monumental statuary and the order of a century than which there was none so orderly. For two years he had been haunted by the Bain de Diane of the Park of Versailles, which he copied and drew again and again until it became the very source of his inspiration for the Baigneuses of the Tyson Collection.
Was Renoir, by attaching himself to ancient art and imitating it closely, about to lose personality? Was he becoming a mere follower, after the manner of so many artists? Merely a glance at the Tyson Baigneuses will suffice to enable one to reply in the negative. Nothing in the composition of those pictures is less servile, nothing is more modern, -- even in the attitudes borrowed from Girardon's low-relief. And notwithstanding his persistent recollection of Diaz's Baigneuses (in the Louvre Museum) nothing is more personal. Thus does Renoir prove his own originality, which fears neither the closest comparisons nor the most flagrant plagiarisms. For his own art, that composition was of extreme importance; in that conception, the opposite to that of the Moulin, Renoir showed himself to be as sure; he was as free in the open-air as he was in the atmosphere of the picture; he was even more at his ease in the latter, where the air circulates better and is less charged; he succeeded in attaining the same authority whether he was scattering colour or producing with it a synthesis; he was as near the truth whether he was painting a real spot or inventing some paradisial scene in nature, whether he was representing commonplace gestures or ennobling their movements.
But the Tyson Baigneuses have one incomparable advantage: they form an authentic work of art, a creation in all their parts, in all their intentions, in which nothing is left to chance, and in which the painter's most powerful instinct was controlled, not compressed, by his intelligence. There is at first an outburst of abundance (e.g. -- the pictures of the former collection of Prince Wagram, 1883), and then they begin to take form, thanks to successive eliminations and siftings. They are the work of a man rich with all his flourishing gifts but also rich through his work, his clear conscience, his will-power, and the full possession of all his faculties, spontaneous or provoked.
That period of respect, which, originating in comradeship, was to guide Renoir to fraternity, was to brush against a lordly disdainful air. Faces such as those in La Jeune Fille à la Rose ( 1886) and La Natte ( 1887) place a sudden distance between the author and the spectator on the one hand and the model on the other. Woman becomes untouchable and her proud modesty is a rebuff to every desire or indiscretion. Was Renoir, in whose eyes the picture of a nude woman was never complete until he could imagine himself able to slap her thighs, to remain long impressed by such superb yet chilling looks?... Those six years of retirement and discipline were sufficient to enable him to acquire that definite certainty, that assurance which enabled him henceforth to overcome all obstacles. He was now able to return to nature; he had travelled from one end to the other of Art; he knew its possibilities in every direction, and would not forget what he had learnt with so much difficulty.
Gradually and by easy stages, he connected the severe present with the easy past, without the slightest feeling of remorse or hesitation, but simply with the precautions of a man who knew his way and who put on the brake because he was afraid of outbursts of enthusiasm. But to return was out of the question; it was now a matter of progressing over ground the difficulties of which were known, and without losing the conqueror's rewards. This was the period of such pictures as Après le Bain ( 1888), in which Renoir adapts the seductions of impressionism, in a seductive environment, to strength of drawing, -- as Les Filles de Catulle Mendès ( 1888), and the works of 1890 -- Les Jeunes Filles dans les Fleurs, La Baigneuse assise, Les Femmes lisant, La Jeune Fille au Panier de Fleurs, -- paintings of a period of transition and compromise which, through the intermediary of Jeunes Filles au Piano ( 1892) were to lead to those of the fulness of his power.
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