Picture books are not just for kids. Last night, I started reading Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters by Barbara Ehrlich White. This oversized book made me feel like a kid again. My little hands could barely hold the heavy 1 x 2 foot hardcover and I needed a couple of pillows to prop it up. There were pages and pages of glossy illustrations sandwiched between the meticulously researched narrative of Renoir’s life. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading words and seeing a story with my own imagination, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little help.
Renoir isn’t a picture book in the traditional sense (i.e. The Cat in the Hat), and the pictures alone didn’t tell the entire story. The book was much more complex than that. The writing provided the facts, names, and dates, and the images helped set the mood. The rest was up to my imagination.
In 1800s France, young penniless Renoir was supported by wealthy patrons. They bought him painting supplies, commissioned portraits, and provided room and board at their extravagant properties. Here are some samples of his portraits. I particularly like the red head one. She has attitude!
I let myself pretend that I was Renoir for a while. How wonderful it would be to paint all day, indulge in meals garnished with truffles, drink other people’s wine, and wake up whenever I pleased. Then again, I would probably have to hang out with those fancy patrons all day, and I didn’t like them that much. One is tone deaf and likes to sing until 3 in the morning. Another thinks his foie gras joke is so funny that he has to tell it every night. Maybe it’s not the kind of life I want after all!
Renoir made me think about artists today. The artists I know have far less glamourous lives, but there are probably people who do live like Renoir. If you need help imagining what the former is like, check out the film Inside Llewyn Davis. It is a clever and dark depiction of the life of a struggling musician. Despite the vast differences between Renoir and poor artists like Llewyn Davis, they do share something in common. Like all artists, they both rely on the love, kindness, and support of others to practice their craft.