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Beauty,Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip

Reading Renoir's Family

Annabella Wood

The painting that Renoir did of his family is like a life-sized snapshot of his wife and kids. I can't imagine how long it took him to paint this approx. 5'X4' masterpiece. But that whole time he had to maintain the snapshot in his mind and heart as it poured through his hands onto the canvass.

There is tremendous love from the artist for his family and contentedness, a sense of well-being from his subjects. All of the characters are painted in the full bodied, three dimensional, glowing skin which is so typically Renoir. Also typical but harder to pinpoint is the kindness and respect that his subjects are demonstrating among each other, and with which he depicts them.

His eldest daughter is standing, dressed in a full black skirt and colorful blouse with matching hat. She looks to be about fourteen years old.

Her younger brother, by about a year or two, is dressed in what I'll call a sailor's shirt and long black pants. His arm is hooked through the older sister's arm and both of them have clasped their hands in front of them. Their faces are relaxed and pleasant, and they seem very comfortable with each other.

The son is apparently conversing with his other sister. She seems the youngest of the three, perhaps 10 or 11 years old. She is dressed in a red dress with a wide white collar and blue sash. She is also sporting a light tan straw hat with a matching blue ribbon. Her left hand is throwing back her hair while her right is holding a small beach ball behind her back.

Her body's inclination and the tilt of her head speak of prudishness, perhaps the mock prudishness of a young girl aspiring to sophisticated womanhood. Her attitude is one demonstrated by pubescent girls through the ages.

Though she emanates snobbishness, the love for her on her brother's face bespeaks to the fact that this girl is inherently kind, gentle, loving and loved. She is just exploring new territory with her current actions.

The mother of these children is a very attractive brunette, dressed in a long, black skirt, cream colored blouse and white apron. She is the only one in the painting without a hat. She is bent down at the knees to nearly ground level in order to attend to the center of the painting, her youngest child, a two year old girl.

This toddler is very fair skinned, red-haired, and dressed all in white. She is sporting a wonderful, white bonnet made from wide ribbons, full length white dress and white shoes. She is standing, but appears a little wobbly. Her mother's right arm supports her from behind, while her left hand insures the baby doesn't fall forward. For added security, the girl has grasped onto the material of her mother's blouse sleeve, and is holding on tightly.

It looks like the family is about to embark on an outing for the day, maybe a picnic, or a walk in the country, or maybe even a beach day.

What draws me to this portrait is the conversation portrayed through body language and facial expressions between the characters. These people clearly respect each other, and live in a predominately loving environment.

For instance, they clearly respect the middle daughter's prerogative to mock sophistication. They fully allow that the baby take Mother's full attention, and the mother's trust, in turn, that her elder children don't require her attention. This is respect.

I feel invited into the family as I experience them so many years after the fact. I feel I could be the family member not pictured here, the painter. If I were to walk into the third dimension of this canvas and have it come to life, they would welcome me on their excursion and I would experience first hand their respect and friendship. If I were the painter, I would experience their love, dependence and independence as well.

But by simply observing this two dimensional painting, I experience the feelings of love and respect in my own way. I feel them both from the artist and his family.

As I sit with it over time, I think as I fancy the artist did. I fully love but am a bit concerned about the future of my oldest daughter as she nears the age of splitting off from the family and making her own way in the world.

I love and admire my son, dreaming dreams of grand adventure and accomplishment for him, but more than that I feel a deep gratitude that he is so loving. I pray that no matter what else comes his way, he keeps exercising his deep capacity to love.

I see my middle daughter with a smile on my heart. She is trying so hard to grow up so fast. Little does she know that when she does grow up, she will look at these days with misty longing, wondering where they flew off to.

I look at my baby, already nearly two years old, walking, and getting into everything. She hasn't learned enough yet to accept any limitations or boundaries. The world is hers, and she is the only one of the kids who still knows that.

And my beautiful wife, whose incredible body facilitated God in giving life to these children. Her love is such that it gave me life, too, though not in a literal sense. But she represents the mother of all life, our support, nourishment, and the provider of everything that is good in this world.

My reverie is cut short as a tour comes by, cutting off my view of the family, and I snap back into the Barne's Foundation. I am sitting on a hard wooden bench. The guide is telling the story of the painting, "This is a painting by Renoir of his family. The two younger girls are his daughters, and the lady is his wife. The older girl is the governess and the boy is a neighbor."

"Well," I think, "that changes my story." Or does it? I experienced the painting without any prior knowledge, and gained the wonderful sensations of familial love. I think I will keep it. After all, I get to choose my experience. I enjoyed my time with this painting, and I prefer it over what I would have experienced had I known more about what I was looking at. Sometimes the beauty is in the not knowing.

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