Renoir’s Umbrellas seems wholly appropriate as My Painting of the Month for this very wet June. I have always loved this painting in the National Gallery but never quite sure why. It seems such an unusual scene. I think it is the engaging looks Renoir seems to conjure up. Is it the ‘Girl with the Basket’ who enchants us or the young girl engaging directly with the viewer? And who has the man with the hat on the left an eye for. We are left to wander.
Umbrellas is interesting in that it was painted two halves. The right hand side, painted in 1881 has that free impressionist style and the gaiety of that time. By the time Renoir returned to the painting in 1886 he had suffered a crisis in his work and had returned to studying much earlier works in the Louvre, such as prints by Ingres. The brushwork of the girl is much more deliberate and classical, but the face is typical Renoir.
The painting is also an exercise in using black in the palette. I tried copying this many years ago, and must say failed miserably. The simplicity of Renoir’s faces is also their complexity.
Do go to see this enchanting painting in the National Gallery, and consider walking around London on a wet June day with so many umbrellas around – and mobile phones. Complete chaos I would imagine.