02 March 2012

A video of Renoir painting in his studio (1917)

Look at those hands.

What you are seeing are the ravages of decades of rheumatoid arthritis.  He has ulnar deviation of his fingers that would be almost unthinkable with modern-day pharmaceutical and physical therapy interventions. 

I found a discussion of a Renoir video in a 2001 article in the Harvard University Gazette:
For 44 years a small disc-shaped metal canister rested in a closet at the Comparative Literature Department's office in Boylston Hall. Nobody opened it. Nobody knew what it was...

A note taped to the lid of the canister offered an explanation. The man in the wheelchair was Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the French impressionist painter (1841-1919), whose severe arthritis crippled him during the last years of his life, but did not stop him from painting. The other man was Ambroise Vollard, a well-known art dealer and writer. The woman was "La Boulangère," Renoir's servant and occasional model...

"It's undoubtedly the only moving image that exists of Renoir painting ... or any of the great impressionists, for that matter. There are some motion pictures of famous generals and members of royalty from this period, but movies of painters are extremely rare."..
The film illustrated in the article is not the same one embedded above.

Who made these films?  Recall that Pierre-Auguste Renoir's son was the legendary French film director Jean Renoir.  The pros and cons of that possibility are discussed at the Gazette link.

What was he painting?  We'll never know, of course, but this painting is from the same year:

Video (nicely done re the uncredited musical accompaniment*, btw) via First Time User.

*Addendum:  A hat tip to reader Steve Garcia, who recognized the music as the third movement of Chopin's Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21.


  1. Too poignant for words. Thanks for this post.

  2. I learned a quote attributed to Renoir many years ago and never forgot it. Upon being asked by someone how he could stand to paint with such arthritic hands, he responded: "The pain passes but the beauty remains."

    Words to live by.

  3. How neat! Renoir is my favorite artist. Thanks for sharing.

  4. In case you are interested:

    The music playing is Chopin's Concerto No.2 in f minor, Op.21, 3rd Movement.

    This happens to be my favorite classical piece, so I recognized it immediately.

    Steve Garcia

    1. Thanks, Steve. I've appended the info to the post.

      The melody reminds me of the musical score for an old Swedish movie called "Elvira Madigan."

  5. Very interesting film. The discussion in the Harvard University Gazette is not about this film or not about that section of the film if there is only one film in existence. The man we see talking to Renoir is not Vollard who was bald and is seen with a matador costume in the painting below the film. A friend of mine says it's Modigliani but i'm not sure. The young boy is probably Claude "Coco" Renoir like someone on youtube says.
    Thanks for the film.

    1. Oops, you're quite correct re the Harvard article. I'll amend the text.



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