The Late Years

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919), Seated Bather, 1914. Oil on canvas, 31 7/8 × 26 7/8 in. Art Institute of Chicago. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Endowment; through prior bequest of Annie Swan Coburn to the Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Fund; through prior acquisition of the R. A. Waller Fund

From around the time Renoir turned fifty, in 1892, his stylistic approach to painting would take a radical turn: his bodies became even softer and more liquid—an effect he achieved through his application of thinned-down paint so that each layer remained visible. This late period is the most stylistically controversial of his career—both when the work was first shown and today.
According to the collector Georges Besson, during the Salon d’Automne in 1920—where the recently deceased artist’s last works were exhibited—there was “the most preposterous fight:” the influential critics “[Louis] Vauxcelles, Georges Lecomte, and Arsène Alexandre [were] running down the large nudes. . . . Poor Jean Renoir wanted to beat up the people who were guffawing in front of his father’s works on the day of the private viewing.” Though his molten, often abstract figures engendered heated debate, they were also revered, and coveted, by collectors and a group of avant-garde artists who looked to Renoir as the father of modernism. This group included, among others, Pablo Picasso, who owned both Bather Seated in a Landscape, Called Eurydice and Bust of a Model, two of the works included in this exhibition.