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LACMA Exhibits Late Works by French Master

By Amy Lyons, 2/11/2010

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Oil paintings depicting curvaceous nude women and daintily dressed young girls reading, playing piano and carrying baskets of fish dot the walls of the second floor galleries of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) building at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It’s 20th Century modern art from an artist known mainly as a 19th Century impressionist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

“Renoir in the 20th Century” focuses on the last three decades of the artist’s career, up until his death in 1919. Approximately 80 paintings, sculptures, and drawings by Renoir are interspersed throughout the exhibit with select works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Aristide Maillol, and Pierre Bonnard, to illustrate Renoir’s influence on the younger artists. Curated by LACMA curator Claudia Einecke and Chief Curator of European Art J.Patrice Marandel, the show is special because of its modernist angle.

“Renoir in the 20th Century is unlike any other Renoir exhibition,” Einecke said. “By focusing solely on his later works, it reveals a Renoir who is largely unknown, in a completely new and unexpected context. The juxtapositions with Picasso and his modernist peers are astonishing.”

Renoir was the biggest name in impressionism in the 1870s, but he embarked on new paths of experimentation and innovation in the latter years of his life. Challenging the basic principles of impressionism he turned to traditional drawing and studio work.

This modern approach is clear in his figures, but impressionism seeps into much of the work. In “Bather on a Rock” the nude figure looks lifelike, but the background scene is an impressionistic mix of land and seascape. This blend was defined by the artist as “decorative”.

As one moves through the exhibit, the paintings and sculptures remain increasingly simple and subtle – “The Clown” features a young boy in a red, billowing jumpsuit, while “Self Portrait with White Hat” is a quiet painting of the white-bearded artist in profile.

At the heart of the exhibit is a feeling of peace and tranquility. The scores of figures often strike languid poses and the faces portray a sense of utter calm. Perhaps this sense of  ease is due to Renoir’s love of the south of France, where he stayed often from the 1890s until his death.

Co-organized by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, the Musée d’Orsay, and LACMA, in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Renoir in the 20th Century” will be on view from February 14 to May 9. LACMA is located at 5905 Wilshire Blvd. Tickets can be purchased by calling (877)522-6225.

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