Last week, when artist Alexandre Renoir walked through the Detroit Institute of Arts’ latest exhibition, “Monet: Framing Life,” one particular feeling kept surfacing: pride.
Alexandre is a direct descendant of renowned artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who, along with his friend and fellow artist Claude Monet, helped found the Impressionist movement in the late 19th century. Alexandre was visiting Detroit to speak at Southfield’s Park West Gallery and decided to view the DIA’s exhibition to visit some of his ancestor’s creations.
Surrounded by his great-grandfather’s artwork alongside masterpieces by Monet, Alexandre couldn’t help but feel proud for what the artists had accomplished.
“To see that [Monet and Pierre-Auguste] got to the point where people stand in line to look at their pieces—for that, I’m very glad for them,” Alexandre says. “They would’ve never thought their works would be seen in museums.”
“Monet: Framing Life” is centered around “Rounded Flower Bed,” a painting by Monet in the DIA’s permanent collection. To contextualize the painting’s place in the history of Impressionism, the DIA is exhibiting 10 other paintings by Monet and Pierre-Auguste on loan from museums around the world, such as the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.
Receiving local and national acclaim, the exhibition highlights the development of Impressionism and the friendship Pierre-Auguste and Monet shared as they painted together in the village of Argenteuil near Paris in the 1870s.
“If you get close, you’ll notice all of the paintings have the same brushstrokes,” Alexandre says. “Well, they learned together, they were best friends.”
Alexandre—an accomplished artist in his own right—points out that Impressionism broke away from many artistic traditions held at the time. The style is characterized by visible brushstrokes, nuanced light, and portraying fleeting moments in everyday life.
“They wanted to express what they saw and felt,” Alexandre says. “That’s why my great-grandfather painted the washer women from the river banks in Paris. He’d go down and offer them what little money he had for them to pose for him as normal, everyday people.”
While the exhibition lauds Pierre-Auguste’s and Monet’s contributions to Impressionism, Alexandre is quick to credit other artists working alongside Monet and his ancestor, including Camille Pissarro and Édouard Manet.
“They were best of friends, they painted together, they hung out together, they did everything together,” Alexandre says. “They were guys who just had this drive and urge to express themselves and what they saw in their daily lives.”
Alexandre is the only other member of the Renoir family to become a professional artist. Alexandre paints in an Impressionistic style similar to his ancestor, but prefers to mix his paint directly on the canvas, resulting in vivid and textured paintings of flowers and idyllic landscapes.
Even with his extensive insider’s knowledge, Alexandre was inspired by his visit to the exhibition.
“There is always more to learn about these pieces and where they’re from and who’s in them, and I try to absorb them as much as possible,” Alexandre says.
The exhibition, on display until March 4, 2018 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, is sponsored by Park West Gallery and the Park West Foundation. For more information about the exhibition, visit the DIA’s website.
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