Renoir. Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie


Two of the world’s finest collections of Renoir masterpieces—from France’s renowned Musée d'Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie—will come together under the same roof at this exciting exhibition in Tokyo. More than 100 works including sculptures, drawings, pastels, and rare contextual material will be presented to take visitors on a visual stroll through the fascinating life and genius of French artist Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841–1919).

The evolution of Renoir’s artistry from his early realistic depictions to the stunning rosy nudes of his twilight years is captured in ten chapters encompassing his many beloved genres and subjects—portraits, landscapes, everyday life, flowers, children, nude women, and more. At the same time, the exhibition traces Renoir’s shift from the innovative experiments of Impressionism back to the venerable traditions of classical painting, and then toward a fusion of these styles, revealing how the artist’s life was a never-ending exploration of new challenges.

This retrospective will also be a milestone event for Japanese art lovers, as it will mark the first time for the superlative Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876) to be presented in this country. The exuberant faces of people at leisure, the gentle sunlight filtering through swaying trees, and the dynamic brushstrokes of this inspired work provide a singular opportunity to fully experience the true Renoir in all his glory.

Date April 27 (Wed.) - August 22 (Mon.), 2016
Closed on Tuesdays (except for May 3 (public holiday) and August 16)
Opening hours 10:00~18:00
*10:00-20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays, August 6, 13and 20.
(Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Venue The National Art Center, Tokyo (Kokuritsu-Shin-Bijutsukan), Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8558
Organized by The National Art Center, Tokyo, Musée d'Orsay, Musée de l'Orangerie, and Nikkei Inc.
With the support of Embassy of France/Institut français du Japon
With the sponsorship of ASAHI BREWERIES, LTD., NEC Corporation, Kao Corporation, KDDI CORPORATION, Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance Inc., The Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Limited, DAIKIN INDUSTRIES, LTD., Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd., Daiwa Securities Group Inc., Daiwa House Industry Co., Ltd., Mizuho Bank, Ltd., MITSUI & CO., LTD., Mitsubishi Corporation
With the special cooperation of TV TOKYO Corporation, BS Japan Corporation
With the cooperation of JAPAN AIRLINES
This exhibition is covered by the Japanese Act on the Indemnification of Damages to Works of Art in Exhibitions (Act No.17 of 2011)
Admission(tax included)
General 1,600 yen (Adults), 1,200 yen (College students), 800 yen (High school students)
Advance/Group 1,400 yen (Adults), 1,000 yen (College students), 600 yen (High school students)
  • Visitors who are under junior high school students and disabled people with ID booklets (along with the one assistant) will be admitted for free.
  • Free entrance to the exhibition for high school students on Saturdays and Sundays from 30th of April to 26th of June, 2016, upon presenting students ID.
  • Advance tickets on sale from January 27 (Wed.) until April 26 (Tue.), 2016 (only until April 25(Mon.) at the National Art Center, Tokyo).
  • Tickets both Advance and General are available through The National Art Center, Tokyo (only on open days), exhibition website (ONLINE TICKETS), Ticket Pia (P code: 767-279 [Advance & General]), Lawson Tickets (L code: 33443), Seven Tickets (Seven-Eleven, Seven code: 043-332), eplus, and other major ticket agencies. Service charges may apply. (These service are only available in Japanese.)
  • Group tickets will only be available at the venue and discounts only applicable to groups of 20 people or more.
  • Reduction (100 yen off) applies to visitors who present the ticket stub of a concurrent exhibition at The National Art Center, Tokyo, Suntory Museum of Art or Mori Art Museum (Art Triangle Roppongi).
  • For Students, faculty and staff, of “Campus Members”, group discounts apply to purchasing tickets.
  • Credit card (UC, Master Card, VISA, JCB, AMEX, Diners Club, DISCOVER) , e-cash (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.), iD, J-Debit and Union Pay are available for purchasing tickets.
Inquiries Tel : +81 (0)3-5405-8686 (Hello Dial)


Chapter I The Road to Impressionism

Two spectacular paintings epitomizing Renoir’s early exploration of Impressionism welcome visitors to the exhibition’s first chapter. Following a stint as a porcelain painter, the young Auguste studied painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and a private studio, becoming friends with Monet, Sisley, and other emerging artists who helped catalyze his interest in new approaches to painting. Boy with a Cat reveals a Renoir influenced by the tastes of the more experienced Courbet and Manet, who abandoned historical and mythological subjects in favor of honest depictions of everyday life. Study; Torso, Sunlight Effect, which came five years later, encapsulates the Impressionist aesthetic with its intertwining of outdoor sunlight, bold brushstrokes, and colorful shadows.

Chapter II “I Am a Figure Painter”—Creating Portraits

Renoir considered himself "a figure painter" from early on in his career. His initial subjects included patrons and close friends, but it was in his portraits of women that his talents really shone. He worked with a diverse array of female models, ranging from young laborers in Paris’ Montmartre district to prominent socialites. His flair for exquisite portraits earned effusive praise from novelist Marcel Proust, who wrote, “And, lo and behold, the world around us (which was not created once and for all, but is created afresh as often as an original artist is born) appears to us entirely different from the old world, but perfectly clear. Women pass in the street, different from those we formerly saw, because they are Renoirs, those Renoirs we persistently refused to see as women.”

Chapter III The Métier of a Landscape Painter

Throughout his career, Renoir devoted much of his energy to landscape painting—in fact, this genre accounted for a quarter of the oil paintings he produced in the 1870s. In the following decade, the artist’s travels inspired works featuring new locations. Although he would finish out the details in the studio, Renoir believed that landscape painting was meant to be an outdoor undertaking—and not an easy one. He once lamented, “...outdoors you use colors you would never think of in the studio’s dimmer light. Landscape painting is a thankless job...The weather keeps changing, so you can finish only one painting out of ten.” Still, despite the ordeals involved, Renoir never gave up in his “struggle with nature.”

Chapter IV The Painter of Modern Life

French poet Charles Baudelaire, writing in his celebrated 1863 essay “The Painter of Modern Life,” argued that painters should paint the present, not the past, and extolled the ability to nimbly capture on canvas that which was modern, meaning “the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent.” The modern visions depicted by Renoir were all quintessential scenes of 19th century Paris—dance halls, taverns, cafés, and suburban boating, to name a few, and these paintings were described by novelist Émile Zola as the “happy pursuit of things modern.”  This chapter begins with portrayals of gardens in Montmartre and people relaxing along the Seine outside Paris, leading up to the masterpiece that best exemplifies Renoir’s fascination with contemporary life, the renowned Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette. Today, 140 years after it was put to canvas, this vibrant work continues to wonderfully convey the revelry of 19th century Parisians dancing and relaxing at an open-air dance hall. To help visitors better understand this painting, it will be presented along with various works in similar motifs by contemporary artists, as well as a movie produced by Auguste’s second son and filmmaker, Jean Renoir. Finally, the chapter closes with two other grand paintings that further attest to the artist’s perpetual endearment with dances.

Chapter V “A Workman-Painter”—Renoir’s Drawings

The Impressionists overturned traditional methods and hierarchies by injecting an aesthetic of rapidity and immediacy into painting. Renoir, however, also zealously created drawings to record his impressions, plan out compositions, and test new ideas. Having spent part of his youth developing his brushwork as a porcelain painter, he continued to quietly hone his skills after turning to painting on canvas. Once, while dining with some literary artists, Renoir told his companions, "after all, I work with my hands, and that makes me a workingman―a workman-painter"

Chapter VI Children

Renoir’s paintings of children can be divided into two groups—commissioned works like the portrait Julie Manet, and spontaneously created depictions of his sons, Pierre, Jean, and Claude. As the three boys grew, they frequently found themselves the subject of their father’s loving brushstrokes. Jean, as an adult, recalled how having a family was an integral part of Auguste’s artistry: "As he eagerly sketched his son, in order to remain true to himself he concentrated on rendering the velvety flesh of the child, and through this very submission, Renoir began to rebuild his inner world."

Chapter VII “Beautiful Like a Painting of Flowers”

Renoir, upon seeing a battle painting by Delacroix, is said to have extolled it as being “beautiful like a painting of flowers,” revealing how he considered floral paintings to be a measure of beauty. At the same time, they were something Renoir could create to feed the art market’s wants, bestow upon friends as gifts, and experiment with new techniques. He once quipped, “Painting flowers gives my mind a rest. I don’t feel the tension I feel when I have a model in front of me. When painting flowers, I can boldly experiment with colors, trying out all sorts of hues without worrying about wasting a canvas. And, then I can apply the experience gained from such trial and error to other paintings.”

Chapter VIII Around Girls at the Piano

Ever since he was a church choir singer in his boyhood, Renoir had a passion for music that included frequent contact with musicians and music critics. One of his paintings embodying this passion, Girls at the Piano, in 1892 became the first Impressionist work to be purchased by the Musée du Luxembourg, then a museum of contemporary art. This success was aided by the influence of two of his friends, poet Stéphane Mallarmé and critic Roger Marx. Renoir produced six versions for the project, one of which was selected by the Director of Fine Arts for the museum’s collections. Today, this painting is held by the Musée d'Orsay and is the one on display at this exhibition. Renoir’s works of the era when he painted these two bourgeois girls were marked by idealized compositions and harmonized colors.

Chapter IX Intimacy and Portraits

Throughout his career, Renoir was a zealous portrait artist who would work on commissioned projects and also find models from among his many acquaintances. The figure paintings and portraits of his later years were infused with soft forms and elaborate hues. According to Ambroise Vollard, an art dealer and acquaintance of Renoir’s, the only thing that the artist expected of his servant girls was that they had “a complexion that fully captured the sunlight.” When his wife Aline was pregnant with Jean, they had her young cousin Gabrielle help them out at home. For the next twenty years, Gabrielle also served as a cherished model for Renoir, appearing in nearly 200 of his later works. The palpable, caressing brushstrokes of those paintings evoke a warm intimacy and convey the joy Renoir felt as he rendered the tones of flesh and texture of clothing on the canvas.

Chapter X The Nude—“One of the Indispensable Forms of Art”

Renoir painted a considerable number of nudes during the 1860s, the first decade of his career as an oil painter, but did not give much attention to this subject over the ensuing ten years. In the 1880s, however, he returned to what he called “one of the indispensable forms of art.” His depictions of nude women rivaled those of Old Masters such as Raphael, Titian, and Rubens, but at the same time abandoned mythology in favor of earthy settings. The inspiration for those backgrounds was Cagnes-sur-Mer in southern France, where Renoir purchashed a large estate in 1907. The painter’s years in this arcadian environment were not without tribulations—worsening arthritis, the injuries of his sons in World War I, and the death of his wife Aline—yet Renoir continued to boldly pursue nude painting, declaring, “I cannot die until I have done my best.”