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Renoirs Sour Period

Renoir's Sour Period

Renoir, as one "Renoir's Sour Period" research paper has noted, went through an artistic crisis. He himself spoke in 1883 of having come to the end of Impressionism and of having realized that he didn't know either how to paint or how to draw. He had arrived at what he was later to term his "sour period." He went to Italy where he saw, and was greatly impressed by, the work of Raphael. He came home from Italy with a sense that the Impressionists had become too preoccupied with colorist effects for their own sake, and that they paid to much attention to surface effects and not enough attention to form.

The "sour period" paintings aimed to correct these problems, but Renoir's handling of color, though it changed somewhat, was not the most noticeable difference in the paintings of this period. What was clearly different was the painting of form. This new approach to form was somewhat severe. It can be very clearly seen in the Portrait of Charles and Georges Durand Ruel of 1884. Here the forms of the two men are so sharply delineated and so clearly modeled that they seem to leap out of the Impressionist background behind them. There is a dry quality to this and several other of the paintings of the "sour period."

Research papers have noted that the "sour period" came to an end about 1888-9 and that Renoir shed some of the strictures under which he had been operating during that period. Indeed the post "sour period" brushwork became progressively more experimental and loose. Spontaneity, or at least its appearance, reentered Renoir's work. In 1890, for example, the Roses in a Vase showed something very close to Fauvism in the exuberant slashes of red and white that form the rose petals. But, as research has stated, "Although he abandoned his 'sour' style of painting, he did not retrace his steps and go back to Impressionism."

Two things from his "sour period" endured.

  1. He continued to handle colors in a more limited way than had been the case while he was still a practicing Impressionist. And he retained his new preoccupation with form.
  2. The characteristics of some of the most famous paintings of his mature period, particularly the paintings of nude women, which have come to be thought of as the quintessential Renoir's, reflect both of these things.

The Judgement of Paris of 1913-4 (it is the second of two paintings of this scene, the earlier one was produced in 1910) shows Renoir using a very restricted palette in which reds predominate. This restricted palette will henceforth be seen in almost every picture Renoir painted.

The women are solid, weighty forms and their bodies utterly dominate the foreground of the picture. This is a painting that is far removed from the spirit and the technique of Impressionist painting. It is something in which there are echoes of Impressionism, but in which the execution as a whole goes beyond Impressionism. There is, in my opinion, a symbolic content to the painting (other than its mythological subject matter) that makes these figures archetypal rather than simply "visual objects in the world."

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