Renoir’s Legacy

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973), Two Reclining Nudes, 1968. Oil on canvas, 76 3/4 × 51 1/8 in. Nahmad Collection
Throughout his long career, and particularly in his later years, Renoir used paint to challenge the viewer’s understanding of volume and space.
The next generation of modern artists championed Renoir for this more abstract approach to the time-honored subject of figure painting. Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso, among others, revered him. Matisse proclaimed, with emotion in his voice, “I’ve always felt that recorded time holds no nobler story, no more heroic, no more magnificent achievement than that of Renoir.” Picasso was an equally ardent admirer; from his figurative paintings to his monumental and Neo-Cubist treatments of the nude, his work recalls Renoir’s bathers, which he knew intimately and venerated greatly.
When Picasso returned from Italy in April 1917, he entered a “Renoirian crisis,” during which he attempted to meet the artist, purchase his work, and copy his paintings. When entering the apartment of renowned collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris, Picasso would find his works hanging in happy company not only with those of Paul Cézanne and Matisse, but also Renoir; these were the artists the Steins recognized as the “big four.” Leo Stein understood Renoir’s practice to be groundbreaking. In a letter dated December 29, 1920, Stein wrote to Albert C. Barnes, who had amassed the largest collection of Renoir’s works in the United States, “Histories of classic painting in the future will bear the title of Histories of Painting from the Beginning to Renoir, or perhaps Matisse.”