|Auguste Renoir, La Grenouillere, (The Froggery), 1869 (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden)|
"Like a child, I paint before nature with an artless soul and the instincts of my fingertips." - Renoir
La Grenouillere is a perfect representation of the Impressionists' evolving style of depiction and choice of subject matter. It is a scene of 'joie de vivre' - modern Parisians frolicking in the water, enjoying a bright and sunny day on the Grenouillere, a popular weekend destination for the middle classes that was a favorite haunt of both Renoir and Monet, at the time. The growing railway network, expanded out to little towns along the Seine, carrying Parisians to the bathing and boating establishments on the weekends for leisure activities. Bougival was considered the cradle of the Impressionists because Renoir, Monet and Pissaro were living there as well as a host of others that came to visit or to paint.
As with most Impressionists, Renoir, was trying to capture the delights of the countryside for a city audience. The impressionists' treated the countryside as a scene of modernity where in the backdrop of industrialization, leisure activities of boating and swimming could take place. Renoir and Monet's paintings were criticized by some critics because they idealized the landscape and excluded most of the polluting existence of the factories and a public of petite bourgeois, of small tradesmen, mixed up with real workers that flooded the countryside on Sundays.1
Critics thought that Impressionists put too much emphasis on color and not enough on line, in contrast to traditional landscapes where the importance of objects could be determined through the use of light and shadows, everything in their paintings were the same shade. In the traditional school of thought that accepted disegno (line) to be about the intellect and colore (color) to be about the senses, this style was alarming for putting the senses above the intellect.
In La Grenouillere, the viewer is invited into the landscape through the boat in the foreground and the eye moves around from one object or person to another all the way throughout the composition. Renoir's fascination with people and fashion is apparent even in this distant group of figures that are individualized with their clothing. The tree branch that is hanging on the front surface of the painting, blocking a part of our view points to the influence of Japanese prints on Renoir.
Even though it is not as pronounced as in Monet's painting of the same scene, painted at the same time, with the same title, the small patches of blue and green color in the foreground giving the effect of a shimmering water are distinct characteristic of Impressionists. The background has Renoir's typical brushwork of hazy colors of greens and yellows that represent trees on the opposite bank. As a matter of fact, even his group standing on the le Camembert, the circular swimming platform is blurry. Renoir was renown for his paintings of atmospheric color display and figures subsisting of light and color reflections.
This lovely painting of a popular weekend destination by a struggling artist illuminates, the courageous experiments in light, color and form that were taking place in the 1860's and brings us his impression of the world before him at this time of modernity.
1. Mary Tompkins Lewis, Critical Readings in Impressionism and and Post-Impressionism, (University of California Press) 106