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Renoir Masterpieces to Make Impression at New Frick Show

By Amy Zimmer | January 28, 2012 10:48am
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) The Dancer, 1874 Oil on canvas 56 1/8 x 37 1/8 inches National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.,
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) The Dancer, 1874 Oil on canvas 56 1/8 x 37 1/8 inches National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.,
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National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

MANHATTAN — Hot on the heels of its successful Picasso exhibit, the Frick Collection is debuting a new show featuring nine iconic canvases from the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

"Renoir, Impressionism and Full-Length Painting," opening Feb. 7 and running through May 13, brings together works from European and American museums for the first time and offers an unprecedented study of the artist’s masterpieces in this grand scale format.

"This exhibition, five years in the making, is a remarkable opportunity for our public, who will never have seen these nine works together before,” Colin B. Bailey, the Frick’s deputy director and chief curator, said in a statement.

"The assembling of such a group will enrich our understanding of Renoir’s ambitions as a figure painter working in the Impressionist idiom."

Though Impressionist paintings may now be considered tame enough to grace doctors’ exam rooms, when these artists unveiled their brightly colored works with "daring viewpoints" and "impromptu compositions" in the late 1800s, they caused shock and distress among critics and collectors, the show’s catalogue explained.

Renoir, however, had his brush in both worlds. He occasionally showed paintings with peers like Monet, Degas and Pissarro, who formed their own group exhibitions in the 1870s, eschewing the official Salon of Paris.

But he also submitted works to the Salon nearly every year and created large, figurative compositions in the time-honored tradition of the masterpiece, according to the show.

Renoir continued to work with the full-length canvases even after other Impressionists rejected the format as being too traditional.

Besides exploring the motivation behind Renoir’s full-length figure paintings, as well as their reception at the time, the show also includes fresh insights on Renoir’s working methods gleaned from recently completed technical studies of the canvases.

The new exhibit was inspired by Renoir’s “La Promenade,” from 1875-6, which the Frick considers the most significant Impressionist work in its collection. Pittsburgh coke and steel magnate Henry Clay Frick bought it in 1914 for $35,000.

That painting will be joined by “The Umbrellas,” visiting from the National Gallery in London, making its first U.S. appearance since 1886. “Dance in the City” and “Dance in the Country” are on loan from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, among other traveling paintings.

"Few of these works, now considered among the icons of Impressionism, sold for large sums at the time," according to the show's curators. "Some remained unsold for decades."

Tastes began to change after the Impressionists disbanded in the 1890s. 

"In the first decades of the 20th century, American collectors such as Frick, Joseph Early Widener, and Stephen C. Clark purchased outstanding examples of Renoir’s full-length figure paintings for record prices,” curators said.

They were still bargains, however, compared to the prices fetched by the work of the established Old Masters, the museum noted.