Impressionist Renoir died 100 years ago

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Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir died at Cagnes-sur-Mer on Dec 3, 1919, leaving the world paintings that have multiplied since his death. One hundred years on, a staggering purchase price is no guarantee of a genuine Renoir.

Born on Feb 25, 1841, in Limoges, Renoir started out as an apprentice to a porcelain painter. His paintings are notable for their vibrant light and saturated color, and for charming, candid and often intimate compositions. Mastering the ability to convey his immediate visual impressions on canvas, he helped launch the artistic movement called Impressionism in the 1870s and became one of the most highly-regarded and popular artists of his time.

The esteem has grown, one reason that walking the Renoir Route around France will be a popular way to pay tribute to him during the centenary year. It links sites that inspired the artist. In the Champagne region, the Renoirs’ summerhouse and garden in the village of Essoyes is now a museum with a permanent exhibition on the artist’s life and work, complete with his studio and some of his sculptures, and the gardens that inspired many paintings. Renoir spent the last 12 years of his life on the French Riviera. His house, now the Renoir Museum, looks down to Cap d’Antibes.

The value of his work has grown apace with the esteem. His Bal du Moulin de la Galette, a depiction of an open-air dance hall in Paris, sold at Sotheby’s auction of Impressionist and modern art in 1990 for US $78.1 million. The highest price paid for a Renoir before that sale was US $17.7 million in Apr 1989 for La Promenade.

Thanks to current values in the market, auction houses are increasingly likely to be offered high-quality forgeries. An industry has grown up around spotting fakes and authenticating genuine paintings, but it is reeling from lawsuits, according to a Forbes magazine report on the problem. Most prominent among these is the Andy Warhol Foundation, which closed its authentication arm after enduring a lengthy lawsuit by filmmaker Joe Simon, who contended – and still does – that the Warhol Authentication Board wrongly proclaimed the self-portrait in his collection a fake. The costs of this and other lawsuits, claims the Foundation, distracted from their true purpose while creating too great a financial risk for the future. And a series of lawsuits and a damaging BBC documentary about Guy Wildenstein, the pre-eminent authority on all things Impressionist, have made some skeptical about the integrity of his determinations as well.

Forbes notes that it is not uncommon for certificates to be issued by self-proclaimed experts or painting restorers who have no real authority or scholarship about the artist, and whose guarantees carry no real weight in the actual market.

One notable Renoir forgery dispute involves the President of the United States. Donald Trump claims he owns a Renoir, Two Sisters (On The Terrace), but the Art Institute in Chicago insists the real one hangs in its gallery – and has hung there since 1933. According to the Chicago Tribune, the painting was visible in the background during a television interview Trump gave after his 2016 election victory.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Encyclopedia Britannica)

This Man Could Save You Millions - Or Help Discover Them (Forbes Jul 2012)

Trump thinks he owns Renoir, but Art Institute says real one hangs in Chicago (Chicago Trib. Oct 2017)

Date written/update: 2019-04-01