On Sunday after a quite morning watching the Test on lap top TV I decided to experience the last showing of a film about the painter Pierre Auguste Renoir which was being shown at the Odeon Panton Street. Before departing for the station I enjoyed the third king prawn sandwich meal deal from Sainsbury’s local.
I missed the train to London Bridge and St Pancras which was just as well because I was going to Victoria and had to stand in the train until Clapham Junction but got a seat for the rest of journey seeing what I assume now to have been one of the Peletons going on the London Surrey 5 hour contest going along the Thames embankment. At Leicester Square Underground station I correctly headed for the Odeon Cinema only to find it closed on arrival opening late afternoon because this was the Odeon Convent Garden and not Panton Street. Fortunately there was a programme notice outside which indicated Panton Street was somewhere between Leicester Square and Piccadilly and with this I remembered where it was, enjoying a slow walk as I had plenty of time with a packed crowd through the Square or dining out on a warm to hot day with the crowd appearing to be continuous all the way to the Circus,
I have not seen before as many visitors to London before with stations and trains full of people with luggage often struggle with the amount and the need to cope with traditional stairways and steps. On arrival I noted a huge party of Chinese looking adolescents on the main concourse at St Pancras and since then have noted two if not three further large parties of between 50 and 100 as well as similar parties of young people from Europe. The scale of the groups and the overall numbers is impressive, especially from China. However in a later conversation I was informed that the groups were more likely from South Korea which fitted into my experience in Croydon
I purchased a senior’s ticket at the cinema for £9 and then went back to the Square to sit on the new marble surround that has been added around the gardens. The work on the central statute continues. I had my headphones to listen to the Test Match.
There were only five people paying to see this French made film, me a young couple and two single women, one of whom I suspect was French or spoke French as she laughed several times before the subtitles appeared.
This is an extraordinary beautiful film where the sounds of south at Cagnes Sur Mer, wind in the trees, the tread of feet in low lying stream water, is left without the addition of music. The effect of the wind reduced the sense of intense heat which is also another feature of the South. As a young man I saw and experienced Renoir at the Tate and purchased a book which includes portraits of his last model, Andree Magdeleine Heuschling later known as Catherine Hessling, who had been sent by Matisse and who became the lover and first wife of Jean Renoir the filmmaker, the second son of Auguste.
The film covers the last two years of the life of Auguste during the First World War when the artist was wracked with arthritis and cared for by a group pf servants who had to carry him to the atelier where he worked from and to the house, and on picnics within the grounds and along a river bed we would describe as a stream on a sedan type chair. He was 78 when he died but looked much older because of the way his limbs had been affected by the arthritis.
He was an artist preoccupied with the flow rather than the line of human figures and still life forms together with a joyous use of colour. the film brings out his aversion to the horror and the trials of the human experience which makes the agony of his condition even more painful to experience. In the film the young woman is sent by Mrs Renoir for her to find that Mrs Renoir although 20 years younger than her husband had died. I am yet to establish if this was cinematic indulgence or Matisse did in fact arrange for someone to pose as Mrs Renoir to get the girl who he believed fitted the Renoir view of flesh and womanhood. Irrespective of the actual body size and shape Renoir tended to enlarge to create the sense of fleshiness which he adored. Renoir painted quickly produced more canvasses than most artists and the Renoir organisation has made available over 1750 of these in the form of a slide show Pierre-Auguste-Renoir organisation where one can order hand painted reproductions of all his works. Just spent an hour viewing the slides and wishing I could afford the property to house the pictures I would buy if i could. The real works cost as much as an International footballer today to buy.
The film uses the arrival of Andree to show us the life of Renoir at that time and through paintings kept at the home we learn aspects of his previous life but this is not a biographical film and unless someone, Jean, through his Life with my Father, book has, and which I thought I have although accept I may be confusing with a book by Jean Cocteau which I certainly do, then several aspect of the film script is speculation.
My understanding is that the mother of his three sons was an established model in Paris when she joined Renoir in Montmartre Aline Victorine Charigot. The eldest Pierre became an actor in film and theatre and plays a role in that extraordinary film Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) and died in 1952 aged 1967. The younger brother is portrayed as a disturbed adolescent because of the death of his mother in 1915 and the lack of a relationship with his father. He is shown as becoming preoccupied by the nakedness of the new model, jealous of her relationship with his father and with his brother Jean who returns home to convalesce after being seriously wounded in one thigh. The film does not record that his ailing mother went to nurse him and refused to allow his leg to be amputated choosing to treat the gangrene which had set in. Once she knew he was saved she had returned to Cagnes Sur Mare where she immediately died after a heart attack. As far as I am aware there is no work on her life published in English although her work as a model is documented through the paintings. Aline is reported in the film to have been responsible for sending away his father‘s model at the time because of the relationship being established with the father and also the son Jean who is upset to find she is not home when he returns home from the war.
The film suggests that Auguste encouraged a relationship between Jean and Andree to develop as a means of persuading him to leave the army and not return to the war. Just when this appears to have worked the son goes on a flight with former comrade and this tips him towards returning as an observer in the embryonic flying corps. At this period in his life Jean appears to be uncertain about his future and one suspects to have inherited his father’s senses and exploring the boundaries of experience. His father tells the tale of commencing work as a porcelain painter after his talent for decoration became evident. Described as a member of a working class family he is also reported to have been able to visit Paris and the Louvre and to have enrolled at an art college both surprising given his alleged antecedents.
When Jean survived the war he returned home and commenced to work as a porcelain painter like his father and he also re-established the relationship with Andree who he marries. In the film she goes away when discovering he has reenlisted and no one knows where she lived before coming to the family home. He traces her to what is presented a decadent club playing traditional jazz, attracting those with a range of sexual preferences and orientations but as with everything else in this film the heightened sexuality is presented in a most artistic and impressionistic manner. He persuades her to return to the household but still goes to the army and the film ends with the sorrow of the girl after a moving exchange between father and son as if they know they are unlikely to see each other again.
Although Jean expresses not vision of what he wants to be or do after the War he is interested in filmmaking and purchases an early projector and then a reel from a silent film, Nowadays four years old are able to work the DVD player and play video games on small hand held screens but then the most simplest of projected image would entertain. My mother acquired a magic lantern after The Second World War which she used to project photos on a sheet fixed to a wall and a first cousin sent to the UK to study electronics created the first black and white TV which enabled the family to watch the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, I still have the screen and slide projector which I purchased in the 1960’s and which reminds that I still experience in my head things which to ones children’s let alone grand children are regarded as historical.
The credits to the film reveal that while Jean went onto justifiable fame because of several of the films he created and to live in the USA and become a citizen, after their separation and eventual divorce Andree is known to have lived in poverty. Images from the film continue to be with and were throughout the whole of Monday when I had planned to visit the Tate or the Whitechapel Gallery, or another film although a study of those at Cineworld failed to ignite interest.
Since returning home I have increased my visual reawakening by looking at fifty brilliantly reproduced prints of the work of Renoir in the Phaidon Art book series which I bought in 1963 for 27/6. There are also nine prints of his work at thee end fo another Phaidon book on Impressionism both at the same time for the same price. His life and work is also covered in the Heron History of Series on Impressionism. Given that eh continued to paint despite being in constant pain over his last years I have been imbued with a great determination to at achieve some literary work to my satisfaction even if at the moment the momentum of my 101 project is slow getting slower.