“Shall I tell you what I think are the two qualities of a work of art? First, it must be the indescribable, and second, it must be inimitable.”
CHARLES TOWN – Though he’s been dead for nearly a century, Pierre-Auguste Renoir has been back in the news in recent days as word spread that one of his landscapes thought lost had turned up at a Jefferson County flea market. It soon will be up for grabs at an auction in Alexandria, Va.
Renoir was a prolific artist, completing thousands of paintings in his 78 years and once painting 15 works in a single summer month.
Experts say the painting found in Harpers Ferry in 2010 – sold as part of a $7 box lot to a Shenandoah Valley woman whose identity hasn’t been made public – includes all the hallmarks he’s known for, including his mastery of light, vibrant colors, a richness of form and fluid brush strokes.
Renoir was born in 1841 to a working-class family and as a young boy worked in a porcelain factory painting designs on fine china. He later enrolled in art school and frequently visited the Louvre to study the work of French masters.
In 1862, Renoir began studying under Charles Gleyre in Paris and soon met Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille and Claude Monet. He experienced his first taste of success in 1874 when six of his paintings were included in an early Impressionist exhibition.
He began to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis in the early 1890s and in 1907 moved to the warmer climate at a farm close to the Mediterranean coast.
But he continued to paint, even after his arthritis made it impossible for him to walk. Seated in a wheelchair, he adapted the way he grasped the brush and eventually needed an assistant to place the brush in his hand. He used bandages on his fingers to keep his skin from getting irritated.
Today his works are among the most sought after by museums and private art collectors across the globe. Many fetch millions each. In 1990, his 1876 painting, “Bal au moulin de la Galette” (“Dance at Le moulin de la Galette”) sold for $78.1 million.