For someone outside of the art world, it seems almost impossible that anybody would diminish the work of a talented artist such as Renoir, but that has actually been the case for a number of years. An instrumental artist in the Impressionist movement, Renoir moved away from the style in his later years. Focusing more on nudes, his paintings have become the subject of varied criticism over the years since his death. Many of the great painters of his time collected his work and held him in high regard. Now it may be difficult to find an artist or art critic who actually enjoys the work of Renoir, especially his later paintings. The debate, along with his life and work, is explored in Renoir: Revered and Reviled.

For art fans, this is an easy film to recommend. It’s the next best thing to actually taking a tour through any gallery showcasing Renoir’s work as the film takes us through The Barnes Collection in Philadelphia. The collection is beautiful and viewers are given an up close look at some many of the pieces in the gallery. While the camera lingers over some of the paintings, voice-overs share facts about his life or various opinions from critics and gallery employees. Think of it as an audio tour without the headphones.

While alive, Renoir found great success and was celebrated among his peers. Monet and Matisse were fans, while Picasso collected Renoir’s paintings, more than any other artist, but his legacy didn’t survive the years in the same way. Here is where Renoir: Revered and Reviled becomes a fascinating topic for those who may not have the greatest interest in the art world.

At least half of the film is spent looking at the way in which people view Renoir’s work now. It’s a much different attitude from the time when he was alive. Our society is different and what we think is particularly terrible behaviour is not the same as it used to be. While his paintings of nude may have been appreciated 100 years ago, his misogynist attitudes have changed the way in which critics view his work now. Suddenly his nude paintings are seen as disgusting, with one critic remarking that the women in the paintings are “bovine” looking. They speak of the subjects lacking any sort of intelligence in their expressions, attributing this to Renoir’s attitudes towards women. It’s fascinating to see how the critical view of something changes from person to person depending on what they bring to the topic as well as the society they currently live in.

Others in Renoir: Revered and Reviled are quite fond of his work and find great beauty in it. They disregard anything said about his thoughts on women and instead focus on the work itself. Renoir isn’t around to share his opinions on things with us, so the blank slate is filled by the person critiquing the work at the time. It’s very interesting to see how each person views the work of Renoir and it perhaps says more about them than about his work.