Impressionist Insider: Renoir caught on film

Have a look at this amazing 16mm film from 1917 of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the French impressionist painter.


The film was found in a closet at the Comparative Literature Department’s office in Harvard University’s Boylston Hall, where it had been sitting for 44 years. No one had known that it was there or even what it was until 2001 when it was identified during an expansive inventory effort. There’s some doubt as to who shot it, tho’ many guess it was Renoir’s son, French film director Jean Renoir. The other two people in it are Ambroise Vollard, a well-known art dealer and writer, and “La Boulangère,” Renoir’s servant and sometimes model.
Renoir passed away two years after this was filmed. You can see in the video that his hands have been deformed after decades of rheumatoid arthritis (more on that below). Harvard Film Archive Curator Bruce Jenkins says, “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.”
We can’t know what he’s painting, but here’s an example of his work from that same time.
Now consider this painting done in 1881, before the arthritis would’ve become quite so crippling.

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