This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue critique of Pierre-Auguste Renoir being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute established from the archives of François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein.
Following his trip to Italy in 1881 Renoir became preoccupied with the classical traditions of the paysage composé. Renoir was keen to portray an Arcadian vision of the French landscape, which was natural and unchanging, choosing to depict unspoilt views, free from any signs of industry or modern life. Paysage avec un ruisseau, circa 1896-1900, is one of the finest examples of this period, beautifully illustrating the artist’s romantic visions of the French countryside, highlighting its timeless values and picturesque charm.
Disillusioned with the transience of Impressionist painting, Renoir now aimed to capture a luminosity in his pictures, whilst still respecting the integrity of forms. Renoir sought to mirror Cezanne’s success of incorporating the classical lessons of pictorial structure, balance and monumentality within his work, while still maintaining his individual approach to painting. Inspired by his trip to Italy and the work by Renaissance masters, such as Raphael and Veronese, he saw there, Renoir now strove to depict a unified and harmonious cohesive surface, manipulating light, tone and form to create a weightier and more monumental aesthetic.
Renoir’s search for luminosity is achieved in Paysage avec un ruisseau. Here Renoir perfectly describes the brilliance of sunlight applying a loose and visceral brushstroke to create a haze of bright, blended tonalities, pairing rich blue and mauve tones, alongside light green and yellow hues, to create dramatic contrasts of light and shadow. Renoir described his joy of such practices; ‘I have perpetual sunshine and I can scrub out and begin again as often as I like… So I am staying in the sun – not to paint portraits in full sunlight, but while I am warming myself and looking hard at things I hope I will have acquired some of the grandeur and simplicity of the old masters’ (quoted in F. Fosca, Renoir, London, 1964, pp. 146-7).
Accuracy to detail is now abandoned in favour of a unified and balanced aesthetic. In a letter to Madame Charpentier in 1882 Renoir wrote, ‘So, by looking around outside, I have finished by seeing only the broad harmonies, and am no longer preoccupied with the little details, which only extinguish the sunlight, instead of increasing its brilliance’ (quoted in ibid., p. 147). Renoir’s ambition to focus on the wider harmonies and create a cohesive pictorial surface comes to fruition in Paysage avec un ruisseau. Concentrating on the ambience and atmosphere of the place, Renoir omits detail, only loosely painting the landscape, so that the trees are now a flurry of mottled greens, set against the scurried blue brushstrokes of the water and sky, with only a few particulars, such as the reeds, bark and bird identifying the brook. By applying such a loose, yet dynamic brush, Renoir grants the impression of wind and air, indicated in the rippling water and undulating trees. Renoir deploys a more fluid and harmonious manner of painting, moving away from the staccato brushstrokes of his earlier years, using the delicate flickering touch of his brush to bring life to the scene. Albert André attributes this lustrous effect to Renoir’s technique of painting, he describes, ‘using pure colours thinned with spirit, as if he were painting a water-colour, he quickly brushes over the canvas and something vague and iridescent appears, with the colours all flowing into one another – it looks wonderful even before one can grasp its meaning’ (quoted in ibid., 1964, p. 167).