Renoir – Revered and Reviled (PG) | Close-Up Film


Dir. Phil Grabsky, UK, 2016, 87 mins

Exhibition on Screen has produced a new documentary based primarily on the late works of the French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. A renowned painter who is infamous as much as he is celebrated within the art world, his later work in particular is both controversial and inspiring. The largest assembly of Renoir’s paintings in the world is currently held in the private collection of the Barnes Foundation museum. Dr. Albert C. Barnes was a chemist by trade but also an art enthusiast and an early admirer of Renoir, especially of the later work.

Having studied at the Louvre, Renoir’s teaching was methodical and academic, which maybe was an attractive feature for Barnes. Converse to other art documentaries this is immediately inviting and captivating, the controversy is intoxicating and the subject just as fascinating.

The documentary gives you an insight into the life of Renoir, from his humble beginnings to the last painting he sold before his death. His paintings evolve much as the output of any artist changes, with the times and with his skill set. The art of Renoir featured within the Barnes Foundation museum is predominantly from the later stages of his life and career, post 1890. The narration gives context and a framework for the man behind his work. His affection for other painters during his time is humbling as is his drive to improve as an artist.

‘Impressionist’ was the label he received early on in his career. Possibly in a bid to move away from this, he experimented with his painting. He had many subjects, but his most popular subjects are women. It is a niche he is known for, which sparks points of discussion on his misogyny, portrait variation and talents. His technique is described as dry and controlled, which sounds like as much an interpretation of the man as much as of his technique.

Grabsky provides thought provoking scenes and controversial information, but perhaps the content is delivered over too prolonged period of time to sustain engagement. The contributions from curators, critics and artists alike give a broad perspective on the man and his works. The film is informative without droning on. The variance of voices and opinions made it conversational and engaging, each with a different perspective, giving you enough material to arrive at your own conclusions.

In summary, with this documentary, Renoir’s name will definitely be thrown further into popular culture. A revolutionary, or not. His technique is excellent but his subjects shine through to steal the show.  You don’t have to love art to enjoy this, an interest is enough. You might find you are dropping some art bombs of knowledge on this artist you heard about here.

Review by Jennifer Chuks