Unlike others visiting Philadelphia, once I climbed the “Rocky Steps,” I entered the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I did not see the permanent collection, just the special exhibit. Fine by me. Renoir is one of my favorite artists. His later work was being displayed.
I do not know how much you may know about the Impressionist, but he suffered from rheumatism. His hands were gnarled, yet he could still hold a paint brush in one of them. The last part of the exhibit, and the best, was film of the elderly Renoir painting with his rheumatic hands.
What really caught my eye, though, was a photograph. Have you ever seen something that strikes you, but has no meaning to someone else? This was one of those moments. I am a French teacher by trade; cinephilia is my hobby. My friend Jen who was traveling with me is a Spanish teacher. So, the photograph of Jean Renoir meant nothing to her. Perhaps neither to you.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir is the famous Impressionist artist. In his works, he often painted his family, in particular his middle son Jean.
Jean Renoir is one of the most famous French directors of all time. He did some acting too. My image of him mainly stems from what is considered his masterpiece, La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game). A teddy bear. The movie was made in 1939 with an older and portlier man, playing the clown. The World War One era photograph showed a young, slender, and serious cavalry man. Jean Renoir?! Mon Dieu!
Why the photo should amaze me so I do not know. Perhaps it is akin to seeing an elderly relative as a young person with his/her whole life still ahead. Just when you think you know someone, surprise!
However, in this case, I was well aware of my ignorance. So, I read Jean Renoir’s autobiography and another biography. I viewed more of his movies, in both French and English. I have approached a sense of the man and his unique story telling. He explained very clearly his views, how he created; yet no one could possibly replicate his movies any better than his father’s masterpieces.
I have gained an even greater respect for the artist and the creative process. Pierre-Auguste Renoir felt he had finally attained true artistry in his later years, as displayed at the special exhibit in Philadelphia. This is hard to believe, appreciating all of his work. How Jean Renoir felt about his own is not clear to me. I know he was prouder of some films than others, due to finished product and whether or not he achieved a certain goal.
I cannot continue to dwell on understanding the creative process of Renoir, father and son, for it is beyond comprehension. I can only watch a silent reel of one in his last years and gaze at a youthful photo of the other in awe and wonder.