MeToo gone wild: The New Yorker goes after Trump's favorite artist
Has the reach of #MeToo finally come for Renoir?
Sure seems like it in this disdainful, hoity-toity art review coming out of the New Yorker, painting one of the most famous Impressionists, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as this godawful dreadful sexist, and who, by the way, did bad art. The piece, titled "Renoir's Problem Nudes" has doozies like these:
Who doesn’t have a problem with Pierre-Auguste Renoir? A tremendously engaging show that centers on the painter’s prodigious output of female nudes, “Renoir: The Body, the Senses,” at the Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, sparks a sense of crisis. The reputation of the once exalted, still unshakably canonical, Impressionist has fallen on difficult days. Never mind the affront to latter-day educated tastes of a painting style so sugary that it imperils your mind’s incisors; there’s a more burning issue. The art historian Martha Lucy, writing in the show’s gorgeous catalogue, notes that, “in contemporary discourse,” the name Renoir has “come to stand for ‘sexist male artist.’ ” Renoir took such presumptuous, slavering joy in looking at naked women—who in his paintings were always creamy or biscuit white, often with strawberry accents, and ideally blond—that, Lucy goes on to argue, the tactility of the later nudes, with brushstrokes like roving fingers, unsettles any kind of gaze, including the male. I’ll endorse that, for what it’s worth.
Blech. Had enough? But wait, there's more, as Peter Schjeldahl fleshes out his argument...
[Renoir] could be collegial with female artists, notably Berthe Morisot, but he gave no sign of regarding women as other than a species subservient to men. He deemed women who performed professionally “completely ridiculous”; in a letter to a critic, he explained, “In ancient times, women sang and danced for free for the pleasures of being charming and gracious. Today, it’s all for money which takes away the charm.” The airy assumption in that may be worse than misogyny, which at least credits women with power as antagonists. It marks no mere flaw in Renoir’s personality but an essence of it that dovetails with his attitude toward painting. Sex and art figured for him as practically interchangeable rewards for living. An argument is often made that we shouldn’t judge the past by the values of the present, but that’s a hard sell in a case as primordial as Renoir’s.
(Whisper: Wait till this guy hears about Caravaggio.)
What's obnoxious about the whole thing is not just the projecting involved in judging the past by the values of the present, which is exactly what the New Yorker toff does. It's that his criticism is the same criticism Renoir found himself slapping away from the Victorian-ear pecksniffs of his day from day one. Remember this famous story and quote?
As a beginner, he was rebuked by Gleyre, a professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, with whom he had his only formal training in 1862 and 1863: “No doubt it’s to amuse yourself that you are dabbling in paint?” And Renoir answered, “Why certainly, and if it didn’t amuse me to paint, I beg you to believe that I wouldn’t do it.”
There probably was no impudence in Renoir’s answer: it must have struck him as strange that one might paint for any other reason.
The guy liked what he was doing, he thought women were pretty, he made them all pretty, and that's a problem with this guy. He not only gets his art impugned for it, he gets called "bourgeois" to boot.
The fact here is, Renoir was a pretty normal guy, he had a background in painting china, he made it to the big city, and he created paintings that pleased him. That was what fueled what others called art, and of course, made him the master he became. It's goofball stuff that anyone would argue to revisit this to discredit Renoir as a hopeless sexist whose art no longer gets the title of 'art' because he wasn't in the polite society of today's preferred frame of mind.
Coincidence of coincidences, this guy is apparently President Trump's favorite artist. Trump seems to enjoy jacking with New York high society types by telling them he owns a Renoir original, which apparently is a copy. That's got to cheese them off because not only do they not like Renoir to start with, they must like fake Renoirs even less. Worse still, Trump enjoys his, effectively communing with Renoir in the very language of happiness and amusement he sought to convey with his art.
Maybe that's the real reason the highfalutin' crowd over at the New Yorker has now got a bead on Renoir. They know Trump likes this guy.