La Loge Renoir Descriptive Essay

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (25 February1841 – 3 December1919) was a French artist who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style.

Quotes of Renoir[edit]

chronologically arranged, after dates of the quotes of Renoir

Quotes, 1870's[edit]

  • [ Bazille..] had not died romantically, galloping over a Delacroix' battlefield.. ..but stupidly, during the retreat, on a muddy road.. ..that pure-hearted gentle knight.. [quote, shortly after 1870, on the death of Bazille].
    • In: Renoir, my Father, Jean Renoir; p. 124; as quoted in The private lives of the Impressionists, Sue Roe, Harpen Collins Publishers, New York 2006, p. 83 + 94
  • What are we supposed to do [reacting furiously on art-critic Jules Castagnary who proclaimed the so-called new School of Impressionism, 29 April 1874 in the Paris journal 'Le Siècle'] about these stupid literary people who will never understand that painting is a craft! You make it with materials, not ideas! The ideas come afterwards, when the painting is finished.
    • As quoted in The private lives of the Impressionists Sue Roe, Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, 2006, p. 127
  • Alas I shall very probably not be able to dine with you [madame Charpentier who frequently had receptions in Paris which Renoir frequently visited]. I began a portrait this morning; I begin another this evening, and it is extremely likely that I shall have a third to do afterwards. If I have to stay for dinner, and begin tomorrow, all these people will go away, and my head is in a complete muddle with them.
    • in a letter to madame Charpentier, c. 1876; as quoted in Renoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates / Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 80
  • You haven't time to think about the composition. In working directly from nature, the painter ends up by simply aiming at an effect, and not composing the picture at all; and he soon becomes monotonous.
    • (before 1880) As quoted in Renoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates /Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 176

Quotes, 1880's[edit]

Renoir – his life and work, 1975[edit]

Quotes from: Renoir – his life and work Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates / Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975
  • If I was accused of neglecting my art, or sacrificing my ideas for the sake of stupid ambition, then I would understand the critics; but as that isn't the case, there is nothing to be said. I sent a picture to the Salon for purely commercial reasons. Anyway, it is like some medicines – even if it does no good, it does no harm. [other impressionist artists then refused to send in their work to the Salon]
    • p. 128 : in a letter to art-dealer Durand-Ruel, March 1881
  • One day, while I was painting a landscape in the neighbourhood of Algiers [March 1881] I saw a man approaching who seemed to be dressed in purple and cloth-of-gold.. .When the traveler reached me, my illusion vanished; my emir was nothing but a flea-bitten beggar. The sun, the divine sun had enriched him with its light.. .It's always the same in Algeria. The magic of the sun transmutes the palm-trees into gold, the water seems full of diamonds and men become the Kings from the East.
    • pp. 156-157 : quote on the illusion by sunlight, from Renoir et ses amis, Georges Riviere.
  • I'm struggling with flowering trees [in Spring 1881, shortly after his Algeria trip] and with women and children. I keep feeling regretful, all the same – I think of all the trouble I have given you for nothing, and I wonder how long you will put up with my womanish whims; and through all I keep seeing those pretty English girls [Duret invited him to visit England]. What a misfortune, always to be so undecided! But it's at the root of my character, and I'm too old to change.
  • ..I have suddenly become a traveler, and I am afflicted with a fever for seeing Raphael's. So I am in the process of swallowing up Italy. Now, I will be able to say straight out: 'Yes, sir. I have seen some Raphael's, I have seen Venice the Fair, etc'.
    • p. 159 : in a letter to madame Charpentier, Autumn 1881.
  • Shall I tell you what I have seen in Venice? Right – here goes. Take a boat along the Seine to the Quai des Orfevres, or opposite the Tuileries [Paris] and you will see Venice. For the Museums, go to the Louvre, For Veronese, go to the Louvre,- but not for Tiepolo, whom I didn't know; only it is a bit dear at the price. No – that isn't true; it is very, very beautiful, when the weather is fine. The lagoon and San Marco – splendid; the Doges' palace, splendid. As for the rest, I'd rather have Saint German l'Auxerrois.
    • p. 159-160 : in a letter to madame Charpentier, Autumn 1881.
  • I am still going through an experimental stage. I'm not happy, and I keep scrubbing out and scrubbing out again. I hope this mania will pass.. .I'm like the children at school; the clean page has to be filled with good writing, and splash – a mess! I'm still making messes and I'm forty years old.
    • p. 169 : quote from Renoir's letter to Durand-Ruel, 21st November 1881.
  • What I like so much about Corot is that he can say everything with a bit of tree; and it was Corot himself that I found [back] in the museum of Naples – in the simplicity of the work of Pompeii and the Egyptians. These priestesses in their silver-grey tunics are just like Corot's nymphs.
    • p. 164 : quote from Renoir's letter to Durand-Ruell, 1882, referring to a small painting with trees of the landscape-painter Corot.
  • I studied a good deal in the museum at Naples; the Pompeian paintings are extremely interesting from every aspect. So I am staying in the sun – not to paint portraits but while I am warming myself and looking hard at things I hope I will have acquired some of the grandeur ans simplicity of the old masters. Raphael didn't work out-of-doors, but he studied the sunlight all the same – his frescoes are full of it. So, by looking around outside, I have finished by seeing only the broad harmonies, and am no longer preoccupied with the little details, which only extinguish the sunlight, instead of increasing its brilliance. I hope therefore, when I get back to Paris, to produce something which will be the outcome of all these general studies, and to give you the benefit of them [in a letter written during his three-weeks-stay, working with Paul Cezanne at l'Estaque, near Marseille]
    • In a letter to madame Charpentier, l'Estaque, January 1882; as quoted in Renoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates /Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 169
  • How wonderful the Doges' palace is! That pink and white marble must have been a bit cold at first, but it was magical for me, seeing it gilded by several centuries of sunlight! And the basilica of San Marco! That was what converted me from those cold Italian Renaissance churches.. soon as one goes into San Marco one feels one is in a real place of worship – that gentle filtered light and those magnificent mosaics and the great Byzantine Christ with the grey aureole! If one hasn't been in San Marco it is impossible to imagine the beauty of heavy pillars and columns without any moulding!
    • p. 161-162 : (1882), in a letter to Vollard
  • I went to see this picture [Raphael's painting 'Madonna della Sedia' which Renoir saw in Florence in 1882] just to have a good laugh – and I found myself in front of the most wonderfully free, solid, simple, alive painting it is possible to imagine – arms and legs of real flesh, and what a touching expression of maternal tenderness.
    • p. 161-162 : (1882), in a letter to Vollard

- It [Raphael's art] really is fine, and I ought to have seen it all sooner. It is full of knowledge and wisdom. He [Raphael] wasn't trying to do the impossible, like me. But it's beautiful. I like Ingres better for oil painting. But the frescoes are admirable for simplicity and grandeur.

    • p. 163-164 : (1882) in a letter to Durand-Ruel
  • It [his participating in the 7th exhibition of the Impressionists, combined with showing his work on the official Salon] isn't exactly a joy, but as I have said, it lets me out of the revolutionary side of the business, which I'm nervous of.. .It's a little weakness which I hope will be forgiven me [by the other impressionists].. .Delacroix used to say, quite rightly, that a painter should win as many honours as possible.
    • In a letter to Durand-Ruel, end of February 1882; as quoted in Renoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates /Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 172
  • You know how I feel painting a skin which won't take the light well. And on top of that, it was fashionable at the time for women to be pale, so Madame de Bonnieres was as pale as wax, you may be sure. I kept saying to myself 'If only she could get a good steak inside her, just once!'.. ..and her hands! She put them in water before the sitting, to accentuate their whiteness.. .Just imagine! I come across one of the most charming women it is possible to meet, and she doesn't want to have any colour in her cheeks!
    • p. 175 : (1886) Renoir's remark to Vollard [Renoir had been commissioned to portray Madame de Bonnieres in 1886].
  • There are scarcely fifteen art-collectors in Paris capable of liking a painter without the backing of the Salon. There are eighty thousands of them who wouldn't buy a thing from a painter who is not in the [Paris'] Salon. I am not going to be so foolish as to condemn a thing just because of where it happens to be. In short, I'm not going to waste my time bearing a grudge against the Salon – I don't even want to look as if I do. To my mind, one must simply paint as well as one possibly can – and that's all.
    • pp. 127-128 : in his letter to Durand-Ruel (1880's), explaining his choice to participate in the yearly official Salon as well as in the Impressionist Exhibition in Paris, on the same time.

Quotes, after 1900[edit]

  • I want to give something [a painting to museum The Luxembourg in Paris, c. 1910] I can't be sure of doing again. I could do ten more nudes like that one [a large nude painting, suggested by Georges Riviere], whenever I liked.. .This one turned out well. I don't think I'd be able to do that again.
    • a remark to George Riviere, (c. 1910); as quoted in Renoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates /Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 230
  • What wonderful things [Renoir is reacting on Corot's painting 'Interior of Chartres Cathedral' and Delacroix's 'Interior of M. de Mornay’s house', – he saw in 1919 from his wheelchair, in the reopened painting-rooms of the Louvre]. There isn’t a single big picture worth any more than these two little ones.. .The Director [of the Louvre] was so charming to me. I wish I could have thanked him properly. If you meet him, tell him how much I enjoyed my visit. If I'd presented myself at the Louvre in my wheelchair thirty years ago, they'd have shot me out fast enough! You see, one has to live a long time to see such changes. I've been one of the lucky ones. [December 1919, Renoir died]
    • InRenoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates /Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 237
  • Give me that palette.. ..those two woodcocks.. ..turn this one's head to the left.. ..give me back my palette.. ..I can't paint that beak.. ..Quick, some paint.. ..change the position of those woodcocks...
    • quote from a letter written by Félix Fénéon, published in 'Le Bulletin des artistes' 15th December 1919
    • this quote is expressing Renoir's last painter-remark, 30 November 1919, three days before he died.

Quotes of Renoir, not chronologically[edit]

not chronologically arranged, after date of Renoir's quotes
  • There is something in painting which cannot be explained, and that something is the essential. You come to Nature with your theories, and she knocks them all flat.
    • As quoted in Masterpieces of painting from the National Gallery of Art (1944), p. 168
  • The pain passes but the beauty remains.
    • As quoted in: Instituto Nacional de Previsión (Spain) (1974). 6.o Congreso Internacional de Medicina Fisica: 2-6 julio 1974. p. 424
    • Renoir replied to Matisse, who had asked him why he persisted in painting at the expense of such torture.
  • express himself well, the artist should be hidden... The trouble is that if an artist knows he has genius, he's done for. The only salvation is to work like a labourer, and not have delusions of grandeur.
    • Quoted in: Raymond Durgnat (1974) Jean Renoir: Raymond Durgnat, p. 370
  • For me, a painting must be a pleasant thing, joyous and pretty — yes, pretty. There are too many unpleasant things in life for us to fabricate still more.
    • As quoted in: Faber Birren (1965) History of color in painting: with new principles of color expression. p. 284-5
    • Alternative translation:
      To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.
      • As quoted in Luncheon of the Boating Party‎ (2007) by Susan Vreeland
  • The artist who uses the least of what is called imagination, will be the greatest!
    • Quoted in: Giles Auty (1977) The Art of Self-Deception: An Intelligible Guide, p. 88
  • About 1883 a kind of break occurred in my work. I had wrung Impressionism dry, and had come to the conclusion that I knew neither how to paint nor how to draw. In a word, I was at an impasse
    • In: ‎'‎'Renoir‎'‎', by A. Vollard, Paris, 1920, p. 135; as quoted in: Corinne Benicka (1980) Great modern masters. p. 130;
    • Benicka (1980) commented:
      The frescoes of Raphael and the Pompeian murals that he saw there definitely confirmed what Renoir had begun to feel about his own art; that it was becoming too amorphous in character and was weak in design.
  • What seems most significant to me about our movement is that we have freed painting from the importance of the subject. I am at liberty to paint flowers and call them flowers, without their needing to tell a story.
    • Quoted in: Charles Altieri (1989) Painterly Abstraction in Modernist American Poetry, p. 169: Talking about the movement of Impressionism.
  • One morning one of us had runout of black; and that was the birth of Impressionism.
    • Klaus Honnef, ‎Ingo F. Walther, ‎Karl Ruhrberg (1998) Art of the 20th Century: Painting. p. 7
  • ..not exactly prostitutes, but a class of unattached young women, characteristic of the Parisian scene before and after the Empire, changing lovers easily, satisfying any whim, going nonchalantly from a mansion in the Champs-Elyseées to a garret in the Batignolles. [describing the place w:Bain à la Grenouillère at Croissy-sur-Seine and the women there, where Renoir together with Monet painted in open air and used them as models in their paintings 'la Grenouillère', 1868-69]
    • as quoted in The private lives of the Impressionists, Sue Roe, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2006, p. 59
  • I would never have taken up painting if women did not have breasts.
    • Tibballs Geoff, ‎Geoff Tibballs (2012) The Mammoth Book of Comic Quotes, p. 80
  • They tell you that a tree is only a combination of chemical elements. I prefer to believe that God created it, and that it is inhabited by a nymph.

Renoir – his life and work, 1975[edit]

Quotes from:Renoir – his life and work Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates / Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975
  • He Corot was always surrounded by a crowd of fools and I didn't want to get caught up in it. I admired him from a distance.
    • p. 12 : Renoir’s remark to Vollard referring to the pre-impressionist landscape-painter Camille Corot.
  • It was a perpetual holiday – and what an assortment of people. You could still enjoy yourself in those days! Machinery didn't take up the whole of life; there was time for living, and we made the most of it.. .I found as many magnificent girls to paint as I wanted; in those days one wasn't reduced to following a little model around for an hour and then being treated as a disgusting old man at the end of it.
  • People will keep on taking them for theorists, when all they wanted was to paint in gay, bright colours, like the old masters.
    • p. 64 : Renoir's remark to Vollard referring to the Impressionist artists's Monet, Sisley and Pissarro.
  • They've found fault with me enough, in all conscience, for putting violet shadows on bodies.
    • p. 80 : Renoir to Vollard, referring to his color-use.
  • I can manage very well with the first grubby backside [of the model] which comes along – provided I find a skin which takes the light well.
    • p. 150 : a quote from Vollard's book
  • What a charming girl! And what a skin! She positively radiated light around her.
    • p. 150 : Recalling the model Jeanne Samary.
  • I wanted to tell you that in about 1883 there occurred a kind of break in my work. I had got to the end of 'Impressionism', and I had come to the conclusion that I didn't either how to paint or how to draw. In short, I had come to a dead end.
    • p. 175 : Renoir's remark to Vollard.
  • w:Berthe Morisot was a painter full of eighteenth-century delicacy and grace; in a word, the last elegant and 'feminine' artists since Fragonard.
    • p. 175 : Renoir's remarks to Vollard, referring to the delicate painting-style of Berthe Morisot's, the only French woman-artist of Paris Impressionism.
  • Out-of-doors there is a greater variety of light than in the studio, where the light is always the same. But that is just the trouble; one is carried away by the light, and besides, one can't see what one is doing.
    • p. 176 : to Vollard. Renoir was referring to two of his landscapes, painted in the open air, having a different look in the studio light.
  • You haven't time to think about the composition. In working directly from nature, the painter ends up by simply aiming at an effect, and not composing the picture at all; and he soon becomes monotonous.
    • p. 176 : Renoir's remarks to Vollard, criticizing landscape painting in a direct way, because of loosing composition.
  • The so-called 'discoveries' of the Impressionists could not have been unknown to the old masters; and if they made no use of them, it was because all great artists have renounced the use of effects. And in simplifying nature, they made it all the greater.
    • p. 178 ; Renoir's remark to Vollard, criticizing the so-called 'new' discoveries by Impressionism.
  • Landscapes are useful to a figure painter, too; out-of-doors one uses colours one would never think of in the weaker studio light. But landscape painting is a thankless job; you waste half a day for the sake of one hour's painting. You only finish one painting out of ten, because the weather keeps changing. You start work on a sunlight effect and it comes on to rain – or you had a few clouds in the sky, and the wind blows them away. It's always the same story!
    • p. 196 : on painting landscape in open air, to art-buyer George Riviere.
  • It gives my brain a rest, painting flowers. I don't feel the same tension as when I have a model in front of me. When I paint flowers, I put on colours and try out values boldly, without worrying about wasting a canvas. I wouldn't dare to do it with a figure; I'd be afraid of spoiling the whole thing. And the experience I gain this way is then applied to my pictures.
    • p. 196 : quote on painting flowers, to art-buyer George Riviere, who was watching a flower still-life of Renoir.

Quotes about Renoir[edit]

chronologically arranged, after dates of the quotes about Renoir
  • I have a dream a picture of the bathing spot at the Grenouillere, for which I've made a few poor sketches, but it is a dream. Renoir, who has just spent two months here, also wants to do this painting.
    • Claude Monet (1869), in a letter to Frédéric Bazille, September 25, 1869; As cited in: Bonafoux (1986, 72), cited in Michael P. Farrell (2003) Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work. p. 42
  • He [Renoir] has no talent at all, that boy! You, who are his friend, tell him please to give up painting.
  • Try telling M. Camille Pissarro that trees are not purple, or the sky the colour of butter; that the things he paints cannot actually be seen anywhere in nature.. ..try to explain to M. Renoir that a woman's torso is not a rotten mass of flesh, with violet-toned green spots all over it, indicating a corps in the final stage of decay.
    • Albert Wolff (1876), quote of the French art-critic in the Paris paper 'Figaro', 1876, criticizing the second Impressionist exhibition: 'Salon des Refugées'; as quoted in The private lives of the Impressionists, Sue Roe, Harpen Collins Publishers, New York 2006, p. 154
  • Renoir is a great success on the [Paris'] Salon; I think he is 'launched'. All the better! It's a very hard life, being poor.
    • Camille Pissarro, in a letter to Mr. Murer, 27th May 1879, as quoted in Renoir – his life and work Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates /Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 129.
  • I insist upon 'doing it alone'. Much as I enjoyed making the trip there with Renoir as a tourist, I'd find it hard to work there together. I have always worked better alone and from my own impressions.. .If he [Renoir] knew I was about to go, Renoir would doubtless want to join me and that would be equally disastrous for both of us. [Monet is painting then in Northern Italy then, on the edge of the Mediterranean.
    • Claude Monet, in a letter to his art-saler Durand-Ruel in Paris, 1884; as quoted in: K.E. Sullivan. Monet: Discovering Art, Brockhampton press, London (2004), p. 51
  • Apparently Renoir has destroyed all the work he did last summer [of 1886] . . . He is exhibiting only a very few things [at the Paris Impressionism-exhibition, of M. Petit, May 1887], but they are extremely interesting; Whistler, too, is showing with us as well as Puvis de Chavannes.
    • Quote of Camille Pissarro, in a letter, Eragny, 25 February 1887, to his son Lucien; in Camille Pissarro - Letters to His Son Lucien ed. John Rewald, with assistance of Lucien Pissarro; from the unpublished French letters; transl. Lionel Abel; Pantheon Books Inc. New York, second edition, 1943, p. 104
  • I have had a long talk with Renoir. He admitted that the whole crowd – Durand-Ruel and his former admirers – were shouting at him, deploring his attempt to abandon his 'Romantic' period. He seems very sensitive to what we think of his exhibition. I told him that as far as we were concerned, the search for unity should be the aim of every intelligent artist – that even in spite of serious faults, it was more intelligent and artistic than wallowing in romanticism.
    • Quote of Camille Pissarro, in a letter to his son, 14th May 1887, as quoted in Renoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates /Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 189
  • As for Renoir [his paintings at the Paris Impressionism-exhibition, of M. Petit, May 1887], again the same hiatus. I do understand what he is trying to do, it is proper not to want to stand still, but he chose to concentrate on the line, his figures are all separate entities, detached from one another without regard for color; the result is something unintelligible. Renoir, without the gift for drawing, and without his former instinctive feeling for beautiful colors, becomes incoherent.
    • Quote of Camille Pissarro, in a letter, Paris, 14 May, 1887, to his son Lucien; in Camille Pissarro - Letters to His Son Lucien ed. John Rewald, with assistance of Lucien Pissarro; from the unpublished French letters; transl. Lionel Abel; Pantheon Books Inc. New York, second edition, 1943, p. 108
  • I had a long conversation with Renoir. He admitted to me that everybody, Durand-Ruell and his former collectors attacked him, deploring his attempts to go beyond his romantic period. He seems to be very sensitive to what we think of his show; I told him that for us the search for unity was the end towards which every intelligent artist must bend his efforts, and that even with great faults it was more intelligent and more artistic to do this than to remain enclosed in romanticism. Well, now he doesn't get any more portraits to do.
    • Quote of Camille Pissarro, Paris, 1 October 1888, in a letter to his son Lucien; from Camille Pissarro - Letters to His Son Lucien ed. John Rewald, with assistance of Lucien Pissarro; from the unpublished French letters; transl. Lionel Abel; Pantheon Books Inc. New York, second edition, 1943, p. 132
    • At about that time, Renoir, absorbed mostly by the problems of linear form, made a great many drawings and painted in a style which has since become known as his 'Ingresque' period
  • If you could see what these flowers are. [ Morandi is watching flowers in the corner of a reproduction of a painting by w:El Greco – beneath the feet of angels and saints]. No modern painter has painted flowers like these. Perhaps only Renoir.
    • a quote by Giorgio Morandi; as quoted in Morandi 1894 – 1964, ed: M. C. Bandera & R. Miracco, Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, 2008; p. 48
  • At Argenteuil [where Claude Monet had built a little wooden cabin on his studio-boat], he [Renoir] and Monet resumed their old habit of painting the same views seated side by side. Life was beginning to change for the better; 1872 seemed to be a year not only for recovery [of the war years] but also for putting down roots.
    • w:Sue Roe, in The private lives of the Impressionists, Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, 2006, p. 120

External links[edit]

To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.


This piece was first exhibited as part of the first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874.  ‘La Loge’ translates to ‘The Opera Box’, a popular subject among the more forward thinking artists of the time (other examples include those by the artist Mary Cassatt).  The opera house seemed to embody all the contrasts and confusion of Parisian society at the time.  While it was the place for the wealthy to see and be seen, prostitution was rife among the performers and the established upper class felt themselves increasingly infringed upon by kept mistresses and the more successful women.  Renoir uses this sense of social uncertainty throughout the painting.  Contemporary reviews highlight the developing difficult of making social judgements about people (perhaps particularly women), as one proclaimed the woman depicted as ‘a figure from the world of elegance’, while another cited her as a warning to young women against vanity and the fickleness of fashion.  Her dress is elegant, with the strong vertical stripes which were in vogue at the time, complemented by the subtle shades of the fresh roses in her hair and within the garment.  Her jewellery is lavish yet simple, a gold bracelet and a long string of pearls.  To the modern viewer, it is difficult to decide whether she is dressing excessively and extravagantly, or simply abiding by the expectations of her peers.  For clues to this we look to her expressions, her movements.  She leans forward, resting an arm on the ledge, her fan on her lap, an air almost of excitement.  Her eyes are subtle, her mouth slightly purses, it is hard to tell whether she is favourable or shy.  The painting is a great interplay of gazes; where usually the viewer is the primary gaze in concern, we are the ones looking, here we become one of the great interchange of looks and expressions.  The opera glasses are a clue to this, the man behind points his high, clearly not directed at the stage.  We almost see ourselves as acting out the same role as him, the cropped composition suggesting we too look through the opera glasses, in a box opposite and slightly above the woman.  When we view her in this context she becomes easier to read.  The composition is potentially highly voyeuristic, the male depicted implies that we too are male, searching the opera house for the most pleasing woman, attending the opera under the pretence of intellectual nourishment.  Alternatively we are female, and eying her up competitively.  But this sense of voyeurism is countered by her gaze; she is slightly knowing, neither encouraging being viewed, nor offended by it, but gently acknowledging it, looking back at the viewer, or the other audience members, accepting this aspect of society.  We feel almost as if she’s so accustomed to it (it after all occurs in her own social circle, the man she sits with) that it no longer merits a response.  She becomes almost symbolic, or asst least typical, of modern woman’s experience on Paris in the 1870s.

Impressionist painting is associated with the outdoors, painting ‘en plein air’ being one of their major lasting contributions to the development of art.  Not only in landscape paintings, but also in the paintings of people enjoying the communal outside spaces of Paris itself, such as Renoir’s own ‘Ball at the Moulin de la Galtette’.  However they were highly influenced by both the techniques and the subject matter of Manet.  Renoir is here following Manet’s example, set by such paintings as ‘Un Bal Masque l’Opera’, painted just a year before in 1873.  The strong use of black is unusual for Impressionist painting, as they thought it ineffective at depicting light, preferring brighter colours which achieved more realistic effects.  Here the black is mixed with blue, to better evoke the play of light.  Throughout the painting blues and yellows are used for shadowing and highlighting (respectively).  The white of the dress is in many places mixed with greyish blue, to evoke the sharp contrasts of the unnatural gaslights, and the deep shadow in the recess of the box.  Yellow is used most clearly on her jewellery, picking out the light reflecting on the pearls.  The earrings are a highly skilful contrast of blue and yellow, with the tiniest dabs on white, giving them realistic shading while maintaining a full form from a distance.  The warm yellow is appropriate for the glowing yellowish light emitted by the gaslights.  This use of yellows and blues is common among the Impressionists, used for portraying a wide range of light effects, and for creating more realistic shadows, with a greater depth.  Technological advances had lead to the production of chemical pigments.  These were both much more readily available than their predecessors, and much cheaper.  Previously pigments had largely been made from expensive natural materials, particularly blue (the most prized pigment being lapis lazuli, traditionally mined in Afghanistan).  Blue is also used in ‘La Loge’ for the woman’s eyes, giving the piece a sense of unity.

The Impressionists are also well known for painting ‘in front of the motif’.  This is not to say that the motif was in its natural setting.  The woman depicted is in fact a popular model, from Montmarte, the artist’s den quarter of Paris, Nini Lopez (flatteringly known as ‘Fish Face’).  The man is posed by Renoir’s brother Edmond, who often appears in Renoir’s paintings (in ‘Ball at the Moulin de la Galette’ and twice in ‘Pont Neuf’, among others).  The viewpoint is almost impossible to actually paint from (through a pair of opera glasses) so it is likely that it was staged in a studio.  The brushwork however still has the exuberance of speed.  They vary greatly in size; on the dress and hair we see the typical broad brushstrokes of the hog’s hair brushed favoured by the Impressionists, while the jewellery show delicate dabs of colour from a heavily loaded brush.  Her face is very smoothly modelled, again shading accomplished through gentle touches of yellow and blue, and a slight flush brought by pink strokes on her cheeks and chin.  Taking a cynical viewpoint, this smoothness could be to represent the over-use of make-up by some sections of society at the time (one section in Baudelaire’s ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, is entitled ‘In Praise of Cosmetics’, in which he argues that make-up should be used and is honourable for its attempt to improve on Nature, and is a piece of writing which can help to inform us about attitudes towards make-up).  On a more optimistic note, the paleness of her skin well suits her fair hair, and draws pleasing comparison with the flowers in her hair and bodice.  Edmond Renoir is stylishly dressed, with his crisp white shirt and gloves, he fits well with the characteristics of a flanneur.  We are also left to guess as to the relationship between the two figures.  Lovers, customer and client, brother and sister, we cannot tell.  The cropped composition prevents us from being able to see the entire box, so we do not even know if they are alone or part of a larger group.  This ambiguity is fitting to the social setting.  As we are looking at her across the open space of the opera house, we are put in the position of the stranger.  She may be famed, or we may only sport her for her looks.  But she is enigmatic, mysterious to us.  Her knowing look acknowledges the action of us looking at her, whilst also maintaining this sense of aloofness; she is almost protecting her identity from us.

Renoir presents us with all the intricacies of social interaction within a single painting.  The balance between what we can learn from simply looking at her and what we cannot know, what is concealed from us or mysterious, is carefully maintained.  This provokes the question of ‘why?’  Why did he go to such lengths to recreate an experience which any relatively well-heeled Parisian could encounter on a daily basis?  This is where the painting takes on a gently confrontational element.  He questions his audience as to why they do this; if ultimately all they can learns is how fashionable someone is, and some superficial hints as to their character, what is the point of eyeing each other up like this?  So she is fashionably, she wears fine clothes and jewellery; this could be inherited money, or gifts, this could be some fleeting moment in a life raised from poverty (see the ups and downs of Nana, in Zola’s novel of the same name, which inspired Manet to paint a portrait of the fictional woman), or she could be from a fine old family with wealth accumulated over years.  We cannot really learn much about her.  By preserving this moment in painting, Renoir implies another reading.  This moment of the woman viewed by the most likely male audience member, suggests that he also intends for us to empathise with the woman.  She takes up the majority of the picture space, yet (without meaning to imply that Renoir was some level of proto-Feminist) our gaze almost reduces her to an object within the space.  He encourages us to consider her perspective on the situation, and question whether we would accept it with such docile knowingness as she would.  ‘We’ in this case can be taken as the male majority of Renoir’s audience.  This sense of questioning gives Renoir’s painting a stronger link with Manet’s ideals than many other Impressionist paintings, including many of his own.  The woman is distinctly of her time, and yet not.  She can mean as much to the modern woman, caught between the desire to be appealing and the post feminist expectation to be disdainful of the male gaze; we can see just as much of ourselves in her.  Renoir has created an icon of the conflicting demands of society on women, not only of his own time, but also of ours.

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