Up close and personal with Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Renoir Auction Personal Archive

Photograph courtesy of Matt Otero, Associated Press, Dallas, 2013.

By Noah Fleisher

Some work days are extremely long, punctuated by annoyance, relentless tasks and a battlefield worthy drive home.

Some days you get to see a massive Pierre-Auguste Renoir sculpture right up close and very personal.

Earlier this year I was informed that we were going to be selling the personal effects of the great painter, the largest trove of personal material related to Renoir ever offered, along with some sculptures and sculpture molds. Very cool stuff, and very evocative for it’s proximity to such a renowned figure in Fine Art. How often do you get to look through Renoir’s spectacles, or see the cigarette holder (a true Frenchman, sure enough) that he chewed as he smoked his tobacco and painted his pictures? Or how about his scarf? Or his personal correspondence with his wife, Aline, playfully planning their next rendezvous? Or my favorite, the one where he mourns the loss of the family dog, Quiqui – “Pauvre Quiqui!”

The auction is scheduled for Sept. 19, in New York City.

About a month ago we started working with the Associated Press on a story about the collection – it broke two days ago and has appeared in thousands of places all over the world, in case you were wondering – which led to last Friday, Aug. 16, when the Dallas bureau sent over a photographer to get a few images for the story.

We made a plan to meet where the collection is being kept and to get him to photograph the pieces he was most interested in. The plan proceeded ahead without a glitch and the resulting press has been gratifying to see – it is an extraordinary grouping, one that will never be offered together again – as I want to do my part to spread the word.

I work with journalists for a living, giving them access to the top collectibles and experts Heritage has to offer. I am used to good material and smart people. I love what I do, and I truly love the stuff – that’s what it’s all about. But I keep to the sidelines and let the story progress according to its own logic. That’s exactly how this one unfolded.

Grande Venus

Then we got to the Grand Venus sculpture, the centerpiece of the collection and a piece that Renoir himself regarded as a masterpiece. Majestic and imposing at six feet tall, it’s also ethereal and light in its presence, a dichotomy that is intriguing and inviting. Rapidly I found myself drifting from the conversation and inching closer to the sculpture, drawn into a silent dialogue.

More than that, however, I realized that I was in the presence of Renoir himself, and I was virtually alone. I had a private audience with a masterpiece and nothing to distract from it. Ownership did not matter, the impossiblity of ever buying it did not matter. Nothing mattered, in fact, except this respite in the presence of greatness. For a brief moment I understood…

Then I heard the click. The spell was broken. The photographer had followed me, unbeknownst, and lifted his camera for the shot you see at the top of this post.

It did not make the grade for the story (thank you!), but the photographer did email it to me, saying it was “a good one,” and I agree. In the moment of that image I’m not the PR Director at Heritage, nor am I any label that I put on myself throughout life. I’m a person enraptured by great art.

A couple hours later, at the end of the long day, having batted away annoyance and waded through the relentless tasks that sandwiched the photo shoot, I made my plodding way through traffic towards home. Pleased to be alive and thrilled with the energy imparted by great art.

This was a day I got to see a massive Pierre-Auguste Renoir sculpture right up close and very personal.

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