Renoir sucks—or does he?

Even Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the long-dead impressionist painter, cannot escape the internet's disdain for pretty things that are also smarmy.

"Turn down your phone's brightness," warns the instagram account renoir_sucks_at_painting, of the painting centered above. "…Look at her face, clearly wincing from a phantom pain in her lopped-off left arm. What happened to her fucking arm? She's mutilated! Surrounded by #rottingvegetation. Are we the only ones with any compassion?"

This line of inquiry culminated in an ironic protest rally (ironic in the internet way, inasfar is the irony is actually just a thin marketing veneer for seething contempt) in Boston.

Even the Serious People tut-tutting at the protest agree that Renoir is overrated: "Is it worth getting worked up about Renoir? He is an artist I detest most of the time. Such a syrupy, falsified take on reality.”

Most deliciously of all, an alleged descendant showed up in the comment thread to defend him on the grounds of how much his paintings sell at auction. "The market has spoken" said a person claiming to be Genevieve Renoir. It could not be a more perfect outcome for people who want the world to sincerely believe that Renoir sucks

The Atlantic's Kriston Capps has the essential explainer: Why Absolutely Everyone Hates Renoir: "if God does in fact hate Renoir, at least he has a decent moral reason to do so. For the rest of us, his insipid, chintzy, gauzy paintings will simply have to do."

The moral reason in question being the fact that Renoir was a dick who hated Jews.

Of course, it's always been this way. Here's Albert Wolff, from 1874: "Try to explain to M Renoir that a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with green and purple spots that indicate the state of total putrefaction in a corpse."

Naturally, there is dissent. Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker says hating Renoir is just a phase, and you'll grow out of it when you stop fortifying your self-esteem with pride in your own sophistication.

Renoir painted very well when he cared to. (Ask any painter.) He did so in radical ways imported from outside academic convention—from his first profession, as a decorator of porcelain china. His style never forgets the charm of imagery glazed onto vessels. It’s true that his compositions tend to be slack. He was indifferent to the corners of rectangular canvases. It helps, when looking at his pictures, to imagine them as flattened convex surfaces.

Renoir’s popular appeal advanced the bourgeois cultural revolution that was Impressionism. He junked the aristocratic airs that linger in Degas and shrugged off the plein-air product lines of Monet. (They’re great, too, of course.) His art was from, for, and about the delights of an ascendant class. His exaggerated blush and sweetness make sense as effusions of triumphal exuberance.

True. But nothing described as "just a phase" is ever just a phase, is it?

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