PROPERTY SOLD TO BENEFIT THE EUROPEAN PAINTINGS ACQUISITION FUND OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
The present work finds two women and two young children at the center of the Bois de la Chaise, the woodsy grove from which the painting takes its name. Tall trunks and lithe branches wend their way through the composition, framing the figures at center. Glistening in the distance is a brilliant splash of cerulean, locating the arboreal outcropping by the sea. Dappled light at the center of the scene, paired with a disciplined balance of color, draws the eye toward the meadow where the holiday-goers are haloed by ocean waters. Striking a harmonious balance between his subjects, Renoir paints his figures as inherently a part of their verdant surroundings. Renoir’s masterful use of wet-on-wet painting imbues a softness to the middle ground and background, causing the illuminated pasture and water to recede softly into the distance. In contrast, a more precise handling of paint at the fore, seen most evidently in the flowering tree tops, helps create a vast sense of depth and perspective within this landscape.
Having surfaced from a period of artistic “crisis” in the 1880s, born out of exhaustive travel to Italy, Algeria and throughout the Mediterranean and a fevered search for solidity in his figuration, Renoir returned to the soft renderings of his earlier Impressionistic days (see fig. 2). However, these later landscapes reflect a more decorative idealization of his pastoral subjects as compared to his early works, which placed primacy on the fleeting effects of light, as influenced and prioritized by Monet.
While often considered among the preeminent Impressionists, Renoir was at heart a student of the École des Beaux-Arts, with the deep hierarchies of the Academy fully entrenched in his psyche. As such, Renoir’s landscapes—historically considered a lesser discipline—were always in the greater service of the more esteemed genre of figure painting. Even during the years which witnessed an outpouring of landscapes and a concerted effort by the artist to seek out the most picturesque environments, Renoir yearned to paint figures (having claimed it difficult to find adequate models during his travels). Despite such protestations, landscapes from the late 1880s and early 1890s radiate with luminous color, proving perhaps how intoxicating the settings were for even a figure painter. Such popular locales as Noirmoutier also offered Renoir the abundant opportunity to paint society types under resplendent natural light—a luxury not afforded by studio portraiture (see fig. 3). The softly rendered and carefully balanced landscapes from this period in the early 1890s anticipates Renoir’s ensuing progression toward the swirling compositions and Rubensian bathers which marked the master’s final years.
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