Thursday, February 09, 2006

Thoughts one has looking through a book of Renoir paintings in the waiting room of a hospice as a close friend gets her morphine drip changed

A guy I was dating once took one look at Renoir's painting Bather on a Rock and declared,

"I never knew you posed for Renoir"

(I was flattered, of course. Bather on a Rock is far more attractive than I am.)

But looking at Renoir today, I am less enthused. I thought Renoir would be a good choice for this moment. He's not a psychological painter. His paintings rarely seem to have much depth in that sense. He did beautiful things with composition and dappled light effects and all, but what's going on in the heads of his subjects is really almost never the point.

In a sense he was sort of the Mary Englebriet of his age, once famously declaring "Why shouldn't art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world." He liked to paint flowers and attractive children. Flowers and attractive children should be exactly what I need.

But it's not working for me today. Not that I had high hopes, given the circumstances, but when looking a Renoir and simply wanting to be entertained, one is rarely disappointed.

Today, I am disappointed.

If I have to look at representational work (I prefer abstract expressionism), I prefer pictures of adults. I like to imagine that I am like that guy in Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time who can intuit a person's nature from his or her portrait. But I look for some of Renoir's portraits and I am underwhelmed. I had never noticed that the expressions that I once thought of as placid are really sort of bovine. I had thought Renoir celebrated the truly female form, but as I look at pair after pair of empty eyes, I start to wonder if Renoir actually liked women at all in any sense excepting the physical.

The reclining women bother me the most.

I stare at yet another nude and I realize that those dappled light effects are really quite corpselike with their patches of pale flesh tones and greens.

I decide I'm finished thinking about this for now. I close the art book and put in back on the bookshelf.

I go back to waiting for the nurse to come back in.



indrax said...

Don't be too hard on Renoir.

There is a psychological test in which you are shown ambiguous images, and asked to invent stories about them.
So you get a picture of a woman sitting on the floor resting her head on her knees. You might say she's had a really bad day, or you might say she's playing hide-and-seek. The stories provide information about the attitudes of the subject.
So if you're sitting in a hospital in the middle of the night with a friend who needs a morphine drip, and you see a painting that lacks it's own psychological depth, it doesn't surprise me that you'd see corpses and empty eyes.

I dunno, try kittens or something.

Chalicechick said...

I know, Indrax. That was the point.