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I am not an art boff.

To prepare for this piece I have conducted acres of research (Google, Wikipedia) in the hope I’d find the fast track to ‘arts speak’, enabling me to write something very clever and insightful. But I just didn’t. This is because, much to my dismay, I have discovered that The History of Art is about as long and as wide as the history OF THE WORLD and as I haven’t mastered the latter, the former may take me some time.

In view of this, please do not think, in any way, that I think I know what I’m talking about because I don’t.

Having said that however, I am an ardent believer that art should be enjoyed just from looking at it and if it needs further explanation it has not impacted strongly enough in the first place (sacrebleu).

And so, to Renoir.

Other than his name and painting style, all I know of Renoir comes from the French film Amelie. Amelie and her reclusive neighbour, Raymond Dufayel, ponder the face of a girl in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party (left), using her undecipherable expression as a smokescreen to talk about Amelie herself.

So that’s the potted history of my Renoir knowledge.

Armed with this thesis of information I visited ‘Renoir: Impressionism and Full-Length Painting’ at The Frick Collection in New York. This was my overall impression[ism]: I didn’t like it.

The three dancing couple paintings covered an entire wall. The jargon next to them said they were romantic. I can’t quite remember the exact words but Dance at Bougival was, according to The Frick, the most romantic of the three.

I wholly and utterly disagree.

Staring at it, the man in a hat seemed, to me, not romantic but aggressive. He is pulling the girl towards him with force. ‘SLEEP WITH ME or I’ll stamp on your foot’, he seems to mutter. In contrast, the girl is looking downwards with a placid expression on her face. She may as well not even be there she’s so disinterested.

I should probably now talk about the brush strokes here, but I don’t know what to say – Renoir used a brush, and he stroked, and that’s obvious.

Dance In The Country was equally uninspiring. The man looks like a greasy wheeler dealer, the woman, ten times his age. He is probably whispering in her ear he will elope with her the moment she kindly lends him ten million francs to find a cure for his niece’s consumption. Not cool.

Dance In The City, exactly the same in my eyes – urgh. There’s movement in the man’s tailcoat, but the woman he’s dancing with seems so stationary. It’s just 2D and chocolate boxey, and therefore, it doesn’t work.

In view of this, call me a philistine if you will but I just don’t see what’s so special about them. Post research, I gather Renoir was obsessed with clothes – and didn’t really care much for the faces of his models anyway – so I re-examined these paintings to see if, in worrying too much about the people, I had missed the brilliance of the clothing capturing (you know what I mean). Having done so, I decidedly came to this new conclusion: I STILL didn’t like them.

There was another painting that had people in the exhibition ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over it. I elbowed my way to the front. The painting had lots of umbrellas in it. It was called The Umbrellas (right). They looked like umbrellas.

In all, I didn’t think much of Renoir.

What I did like, however, were lots of other paintings on display at The Frick. Holbein’s Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas More for example. I’ve stared at those images on the front of history books OF THE WORLD (or The Tudors, but basically the same) for years and years and longed to see them in real life. And there they were, brilliant, thank you The Frick. Now just kindly give them back to us Brits please; Holbein may have been German but he settled in England – died here too – and painted Henry VIII’s court here as well, so technically he’s ours and so are the paintings.

Similarly I gasped (nearly) to see the original Sermon on the Mount by Claude Lorrain (left) – the painting which inspired a room full of wonderful Hockneys currently residing at The RA. Mais oui.

I won’t ramble on anymore as it’s boring but I’ll just say this last thing in summary: if you find yourself in New York, visit The Frick. Just don’t queue for 25 minutes to see the Renoir.

by Beenie Langley

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