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By the Seashore, 1883

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© The Metropolitan Museum of Art; used with permission

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919). By the Seashore, 1883. Oil on canvas. 92.1 x 72.4 cm (36 1/4 x 28 1/2 in.). H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929. 29.100.125.

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Late in the summer of 1883, Renoir spent around a month in St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey, admiring the rocks, cliffs and stunning view of Moulin Huet bay. He painted the starts of fifteen pictures during his stay, most of which were finished later in his Paris studio. Geography buffs will know that the Channel Island of Guernsey is not in Normandy, but sits a short distance off of the latter's coast. Both, however, share the same geology and Guernsey unquestionably fulfills the "by the sea" criterion in the exhibition title.

The arc of the sitter's dark eyebrows and saucily tilted nose in that pleasant, rosy-cheeked face are familiar to any Renoir aficionado. The woman in By the Seashore is almost certainly Aline Charigot (1859-1915), his frequent model, Significant Other (oh, all right: mistress) and the future Madame Renoir. She'd accompanied him on this particular trip, one of many that Renoir undertook at this time in his life. He was undergoing an artistic crisis, trying to reconcile the desirable elements of light and color he'd gained from Impressionism with what he perceived as its undisciplined execution.

You can clearly see this aesthetic battle being fought in Renoir's Guernsey scenes from 1883. His human figures in this series are either (1) carefully, almost Classically rendered or (2) loose to the point of abstraction. Aline here looks as realistically fetching as any young woman could through the eyes of her artist lover, and much of the rattan wrapping on her chair is equally visible. But, the background scenery! Does it ever come much more Impressionistic than this?

About the show:

Impressionists by the Sea takes a wondering look back at how the northern coast of France evolved from shore communities (that had lived off of fishing and shipping for centuries) to vacation spots for Parisians at leisure during the second half of the 19th Century. The full exhibition contains 60 paintings that focus first, in the 1860s, on the well-heeled sightseers who came and played, and later, in the 1880s, on the bounty of colors and light offered by the cliffs, sand and sea themselves.

Scheduled Venues

Royal Academy of Arts: July 7-September 30, 2007
The Phillips Collection: October 20, 2007-January 13, 2008
Wadsworth Atheneum: February 9-May 11, 2008
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