Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Decorative Modernity and Avant-Garde Classicism In Renoir's Late Work, 1892-1919
by Donahue, Nathaniel J., Ph.D., New York University, 2013, 416; 3602655
Abstract (Summary)

Renoir's late work represents a paramount contribution to the history of modernism that has often been overlooked and obscured according to a paradigm of reactionary escapism. This dissertation instead positions Renoir's staunch commitment to the decorative arts, and his advocacy of decorative and classical styles of painting in the late work, as central to the political and cultural debates of its time--both as a link to the traditions of the eighteenth century that satisfied politically conservative cultural nationalists, and as a badge of avant-garde formalism among new collectors of modern art such as the Steins, Maurice Gangnat, Paul Guillaume, and Albert C. Barnes. Renoir's response to modernity was less one of denial than one of protest against a mode of production that diminished the hand crafted sensuality of the object in favor of machine made efficiency. This interpretation re-imagines the dominant teleology of Modernism by re-installing the decorative and the Symbolist movement as the important aesthetic revolutions they were for Renoir and his young admirers: the Nabis, Picasso, Maillol, and Matisse. During his late career Renoir adopted successive hybrid styles that combined decorative and classical forms and which encouraged synesthetic responses in the viewer. His pictures of music-making, dress-up, millenary, and the notorious late bather paintings and sculptures unabashedly revel in the depiction of decorative motifs and tactile flesh, ultimately locating the origins of aesthetic form in the slippages between the senses of sight and touch.

Ultimately Renoir's late work serves as an alternative paradigm of modernity, one that complicates the traditional narrative predicated on Greenbergian purity, media specificity, and flatness. Instead, Renoir presents a body of work which traffics in opposites: a decorative style that is willfully heterogeneous, synesthetic, and which explores the liminal space between the pictorial and the sculptural. As an antihero of modernism, a detailed understanding of Renoir's late work expands our understanding of this period by intertwining decorative, classical and avant-garde painting styles in a web connecting the diverse aesthetic movements and social upheavals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Nochlin, Linda
Commitee: Crow, Thomas, Silver, Kenneth
School: New York University
Department: Institute of Fine Arts
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 75/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Art history
Keywords: Avant-garde, Classicism, Decorative arts, Modernity, Nineteenth century, Renoir, Pierre-Auguste
Publication Number: 3602655
ISBN: 978-1-303-55889-4
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