“Renoir, My Father”
Book Review, The Record, December 9, 1963
I have just finished reading a charming biography, “Renoir, My Father,” lovingly written by his son, Jean Renoir who himself gained fame in the French film industry.
What comes across is a warm, vivid portrait of a truly gentle man who was a truly great painter. I have not read about many other artists so I really don’t know if this is a rare combination.
That the book brings Renoir to life is remarkable. He was born in 1841 — over 100 years ago — and died over 40 years ago. The son who writes of his life was born while Renoir was in his 40’s and he is now close to 70, so the span is tremendous.
Yet Renoir lives in this book.
A man of the most simple tastes, neither fame nor fortune changed him. He came to the realization that he was a great painter and yet never thought of himself in those terms. We learn about his friends — many of them great painters themselves (Monet, Riviere) and others, those who came within the radius of his personality. Any young artist would gain considerably from this book: it is full of many practical matters.
It is also filled with endless examples of the kind of man Renoir was, and this interested me even more. For his life was governed by a set of principles and beliefs that account for his success as a person and for the love he generated. “In his world, mind is liberated from matter, not by ignoring it but by penetrating it. The blossom of the linden tree and the bee sipping honey from it follow the same rhythm as the blood circulating under the skin of the young girl sitting on the grass. The world is one. The linden, the bees, the young girl, the light and Renoir are all part of the same thing and of equal importance,” says his son.
Perhaps his greatness as a person and as a painter were connected. The simple values of his own life are certainly to be found in his work. In his “Notebook,” he set forth some of his beliefs as a painter which were his beliefs as a man: love of nature, simplicity in all things, a sense of humor, a sense of the meaning of man:
* To be an artist you must learn to know the laws of nature.
* If art is superfluous, why caricature or make a pretence of it? I only wish to be comfortable? Therefore I have furniture made of rough wood for myself and a house without ornament or decoration. I only want what is strictly necessary. If I could obtain that result, I should be a man of taste. But the ideal of simplicity is almost impossible to achieve.
* To own a beautiful palace, you should be worthy of it.
* Don’t try to make a fortune, whatever you do. Because, as soon as you’ve made your fortune, you’ll die of boredom.
* I believe that I am nearer to God by being humble before this splendor (nature). By accepting the role I have been given to play in life, by honoring this majesty without self-interest and above all, without asking for anything, being confident that He who has created everything has forgotten nothing.
* There are those who will tell you there is no salvation outside (their) religion. Don’t believe a word of it. Religion is everywhere. It is in the mind, in the heart, in the love you put into what you do.