He was the son of a monster of painting, but Jean Renoir He never had to kill the father. His solution was to opt for cinema as a means of expression, a discipline that was not considered an art in capital letters, avoiding the odious comparison with the masterpieces that made his father, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, in one of the heads of impressionism. But the son never completely cut the umbilical cord. The influence of that father who did not stop venerating ended up impregnating his filmography, as shown by the exhibition Renoir, father and son. Painting and cinema, in the Musée d'Orsay from Paris.
Renoir son was aware of maintaining an ambivalent relationship with the paternal legacy. "I've spent my life trying to determine my father's influence on me," he said in 1974, five years before his death. Perhaps because the answer to his reflection was not categorical: the dialogue between the filmmaker and the painter was as fruitful as it was paradoxical and led to agreements and disagreements. At times, the son's films are a distorting reflection of the father's canvases. In other cases, they do not seem to be signed by a consanguineous. In spite of everything, the comparative exercise proposed by the Musée d'Orsay, until January 27, reveals a "common sensibility", as the critic André Bazin said. To demonstrate this, the exhibition reviews pictures, fragments of films, sketches and drawings, handwritten letters, period dresses and old posters. "That sensitivity translates into a taste shared by nature and by light. Both create a living art, which captures the vibrations and changes that occur around them ", analyzes the curator, Sylvie Patry, general curator of the museum.
The motives are recurrent in the works of the father and those of the son. There is the woman and the child, the obsession with the fluvial course, the interest in dance as a social spectacle. And, in the most captivating resemblance, the swing that stars a famous Renoir father painting, which takes movement in a sequence of A field game, mythical medium-length film from 1936 that nouvelle vague He became the foundation stone of his film revolution. Based on a story by Guy de Maupassant set in 1860, when Pierre-Auguste was a young artist, the film takes place in that pastoral nature that predominates in his works and is carried out by characters that seem to come from his works.
The two considered themselves artisans. Pierre-Auguste worked as a porcelain painter in his beginnings and was a defender of the decorative arts, while Jean started in ceramics, by paternal imposition, before heading towards the cinema. "For both, the creation was not an abstract process, but the encounter with a matter, a landscape or a model," says Patry. Father and son reject the role of the artist as a theoretician. "For the Renoir, art is a kind of DIY." The obsession with naturalism was also common. Passionate readers of Flaubert and Zola, they considered how to reflect real life in their works. Pierre-Auguste never liked the models to use: he used to ask maids and street women to pose for him, as would Jean after hiring non-professional interpreters. The best known was Andrée Heuchling, a model of prominent curves that the two shared: it was the last muse of the father and the first of the son, who would end up marrying her. With the stage name of Catherine Hessling, she starred in films such as The daughter of water or Nana.
The child's work would not exist without the father's. Not only because of that immaterial influence, but also because of the benefits generated by the sale of his paintings, which he inherited after the death of Pierre-Auguste in 1919. Despite the initial failures, the success of The great illusion (1937) or The rule of the game (1939) turned Jean into a star. He settled in Beverly Hills and re-acquired the works from which he had detached himself. In the mid-fifties, he returned to Paris to shoot films like French CanCan or Elena and the men, homage to Montmartre that his father frequented.
In the halls of the Musée d'Orsay, the similarities between the works of father and son are obvious, though not more so than divergences. From the outset, because of the intrinsic differences to the discipline that each one chose. Painting implies stopping time and Pierre-Auguste, more than many other painters, conceived it as a profound exercise in contemplation. The cinema of the origins was, on the contrary, pure fascination for movement. Nor did they share the same opinion about the social role of the artist. "For the father, the world is a dark place and it is useless for painting to insist on its ugliness. For the son, instead, born in another era and enrolled in another form of art, the cinema should be a reflection of the world, including its darkest part, "says exhibition curator Sylvie Patry. To mark that distance, the sample never places a painting and a film on the same wall, avoiding forced symmetries. In the work of these two masters, the differences are as important as the similar ones.