In Renoir’s footsteps
Taken From ‘Country Life – Guernsey Special’
This year marks the centenary of the great French artist’s death. Guernsey is paying tribute to the man who made its landscapes famous, finds Holly Kirkwood
When Renoir landed on Guernsey in the late summer of 1883, he was at the start of a new phase of his life and work. He had been one of the founders of Impressionism, but, by the early 1880s, when he was in his forties, he found himself drifting away from the movement. His visit to Guernsey was inspired by Victor Hugo, who had spent 15 years in exile on the island and produced some of this best work there. Happily, Renoir also found much to stimulate him, writing to his friend Edmond Maître: ‘What a pretty little place! What pretty little paths. Superb rocks, such as Robinson must have had on his island.’
“What a pretty little place! What pretty little paths. Superb rocks,”Renoir
Renoir produced 15 paintings during his month-long stay. He lodged in St Peter Port, but his works are all set around Moulin Huet Bay in St Martin, further south. The artist painted four pieces at a particular viewpoint leading down to the sea from the north-west, where the panorama of the bay constantly changes.
These pictures feel like a continuation of Renoir’s Impressionist work, but his later Guernsey paintings, which are set on the beach, seem to embrace a more Classical approach. They are now seen as evidence that this holiday was a turning point for the artist; after he returned to France, he continued to refine his drawing and painting, moving away from landscapes to focus on more figurative work. Renoir was extremely successful within his own lifetime and his visit to Guernsey had a lasting impact on the island, not only immortalising its beauty, but also raising its profile; the Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery’s most successful exhibition to date was its 1988 ‘Renoir in Guernsey’ show. It’s only fitting that this year, which marks the centenary of the artist’s death, the collective Art for Guernsey should install a Renoir Walk on the island as a tribute. Five ornate steel frames have been placed on the spots where the artist worked, to allow viewers to see Moulin Huet through his eyes, and written and audio guides talk visitors through each location.
Launched in the summer, the project has been a runaway success and it’s hoped the installation can remain a permanent fixture. ‘This project has been an amazing opportunity to bring locals and visitors to the locations Renoir himself sought out,’ says Jock Pettit from Art for Guernsey. ‘It has also been a fantastic act of cultural diplomacy: we feel we’ve been able to raise the bar in terms of visibility for the island. These paintings are part of our cultural legacy and it’s been wonderful to be able to celebrate that a century after the great man himself passed away.’