Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Artist of Light and Beauty
by Mel MacKaron
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, (more commonly known by only his last name: Renoir [ruhn-WAR],) was a founder of Impressionism and one of its great masters. Producing thousands of paintings in his career, he is notable for his depictions of children, flowers, beautiful women, and landscapes. In spite of suffering from crippling rheumatoid arthritis in his last twenty years, he continued to produce some of the greatest art of the twentieth century.


Lisa del Giocondo was a member of the Gherardini family of Florence and Tuscany in Italy. Her name was given to Mona Lisa, her portrait commissioned by her husband and painted by Leonardo da Vinci during the Italian Renaissance. Little is known about Lisa's life. Married as a teenager to a cloth and silk merchant who later became a local official, she was mother to five children and led what is thought to have been a comfortable and ordinary middle-class life. Lisa outlived her husband, who was about 20 years her senior. Centuries after Lisa's death, Mona Lisa became the world's most famous painting and took on a life separate from Lisa, the woman. Speculation by scholars and hobbyists made the work of art a globally recognized icon and an object of commercialization. During the early 21st century, a discovery made at a university library was powerful enough evidence to end speculation about the sitter's identity and definitively identified Lisa del Giocondo as the subject of the Mona Lisa. (Source: Wikipedia)


Without the invention of collapsible tin paint tubes in 1841, Impressionism would never have been invented. Before that, artists used small sacks made from pigs' bladders and poked holes in the sacks to squeeze out paint. With no way to reseal the paint, it would harden quickly, making it nearly impossible for Impressionists like Monet to paint outdoors for long periods of time.



of the

Mona Lisa

It was the art theft of the century... On August 21st, 1911, someone stole the most famous painting in the world from the Louvre. According to author Seymour Reit, "Someone walked into the Salon Carré, lifted it off the wall and went out with it! The painting was stolen Monday morning, but the interesting thing about it was that it wasn't 'til Tuesday at noon that they first realized it was gone."

The Section Chief of the Louvre makes a frantic call to the Captain of the Guards... who informs the Curator... who telephones the Paris Prefect of Police... who alerts La Sûreté, the National Criminal Investigation Department. By early afternoon,
sixty inspectors and more than one hundred gendarmes rush to the museum. They bolt the doors and interrogate the visitors, then clear the galleries and station guards at the entrances. And for an entire week they search every closet and corner – room-by-room, floor-by-floor – all forty-nine acres of the Louvre.

The news shocks the world. "Of course it had worldwide repercussions. It was on the front page of every major newspaper," says Reit. Who could have done such a thing? Perhaps one of the countless cleaners and workmen who labor in the Louvre, or the underpaid security guards. Even the Louvre administrators themselves are suspected of staging the theft to boost attendance. "One of the head directors was fired. Another was suspended. Various maintenance people were fined and questioned and vilified." (Reit)

The Paris Police blame the Louvre for its inadequate security. And the Louvre, in turn, ridicules investigators for failing to turn up even a shadow of a lead. To make matters worse, the various branches of French law enforcement bicker among themselves. "And when one department had an informer," adds Reit, "the other side would arrest him to keep him from being of help. It was like a Samuel Beckett play!"

It is the Prefect of the Paris Police, Inspector Louis Lepine, who finally takes charge. Based on interviews with museum staff, including everyone who had ever worked at the museum, and the scant evidence found at the scene, he pieces together a reconstruction of the theft. But for all his efforts, Lepine has no hard leads.

Initial reaction in Paris to the Mona Lisa's disappearance is decidedly one of denial. Many believe it is only a bad joke. When the Louvre reopens a week after the theft, thousands of Parisians file through the Salon Carré like mourners at a funeral. According to Jean-Pierre Cuzin, current Curator of Painting at the Louvre, "The public came just to see the void where the painting had been hung, just to see the nails which held her. Everyone thought that she was lost forever. She was a national treasure! There was a huge uproar. It was a major event."

"Then, of course, the French temperament took over," adds Seymour Reit, "and they began to have fun with it. There were jokes. There were riddles. There were cartoons. Somebody wrote to the newspapers and said, 'When are they going to take the Eiffel Tower? That's obviously gotta go.' They printed sheet music about the theft of the Mona Lisa, which they sang in cafes. There was a chorus line in one of the cabarets that came out all dressed as the Mona Lisa. I think they were topless!"

Famous music hall and theatrical stars are photographed as Mona Lisa, and there is a sudden boom in postcards bearing her image: leaving Paris with Leonardo da Vinci... thumbing her nose at France... on holiday in Nice. But Lepine and his team of detectives find little to be amused about, and doggedly pursue every possible clue. In the investigation that follows, some unusual suspects are called into question, yet the thief and the painting are nowhere to be found.

Her vanishing act in 1911 is not the first mystery associated with the enigmatic lady. Painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the early 1500s, little else is known about her. Even her true identity is uncertain. According to Cuzin, "The Mona Lisa has all the softness of shape and subtlety of light similar to other works of Leonardo. All of the marvelous faces by Leonardo – that of his Saint Anne, or of Virgin of the Rocks – they have faces of a sort of timelessness, almost unreal, an ideal beauty that is extraordinary. But in contrast, the Mona Lisa is a portrait of a specific person, with a relatively square face."

Whoever Mona Lisa may have been, she has become the object of much affection and obsession over the centuries, perhaps because of Leonardo's own legendary reputation, the small number of works actually completed by him and his propensity for self-promotion. But mostly, her fame is due to his incomparable artistic mastery. As the story of Mona Lisa's disappearance unfolds, so does a greater appreciation of the Da Vinci masterpiece. Leonardo's brush strokes are among the most subtle and exquisite ever seen. His experimental techniques set the standard for generations of artists to come.

Though time has aged and darkened her complexion, Mona Lisa continues to cast her spell. Even centuries later, although avant-garde artists like Duchamp and Dali ridiculed her image, they were paying homage to the Mona Lisa as one of the most influential paintings in art history.

For two years her whereabouts would remain unknown. Then, in November of 1913, with all other leads long since exhausted, a letter arrives at the office of a Florentine antique dealer that would change everything...

The Mona Lisa was eventually found very near the spot where she had been conceived four centuries earlier... having been hidden for two years in the humble apartments of her kidnapper only blocks from the Louvre. She rests again now in the Louvre museum – under considerably more rigorous security – where millions visit her each year.

"The woman is not particularly beautiful, and there is not a lot of color," says Cuzin. "There is not that much to see, yet this painting is the most famous in the world. The problem is she has become so famous that we don't really see her anymore. What would be extraordinary would be to see the Mona Lisa for the very first time, as if you had never seen her before."

{See The "Da Vinci Code" Movie for a new twist on this classic masterpiece!}


High school students who take four years of Arts score 100 points higher on the SAT

The Arts teach the skills essential for success in the global marketplace: risk-taking, out-of-the-box creative thinking, team problem solving, excellence as the standard and academic discipline

Students who are involved in the Arts have improved self-esteem and are less likely to skip school or engage in disruptive classroom behavior

Students who take Art have improved attention spans, increased interest in school and foundations of success on which to build

Participation in the Arts promotes tolerance for other cultures, Art is about working together, about communication, about bridges and connections.


A Story of Art

In the 1870's a group of French artists became interested in painting outdoors in the natural sunlight. In order to capture the effect of the light before it changed, they painted quickly with loose brush-strokes recording only their first intuitive responses to a subject. One of these painters, Claude Monet, painted a piece called Impression: Sunrise." from this title came the name given to the style of painting these artists perfected-Impressionism.

When Impressionism first appeared in the art world, many fine artists and art critics did not like it and thought it seemed unfinished or incomplete. They felt that art should be done slowly and carefully and be dark in appearance; not bright and colorful. Many of the artists we call Impressionists presented their paintings for the first time at the Impressionist exhibitions in Paris between 1870 and 1890. Some of the most famous impressionist artists are Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, EdouardManet and Paul Cezanne.

Right now, we’ll take a closer look at the work of Claude Monet. Claude Monet is considered to be the father of the Impressionist movement which means he had a new idea and he introduced it to the world encouraging other painters to try his new style. He painted what he saw at the moment. He loved to paint using thick, colorful blotches urging his viewers to refocus their eyes in order to understand the subjects of his paintings. It was important for Monet to capture nature as painted outside instead of in the usual studio, so he spent much of his life traveling around Paris and neighboring communities where he would capture colorful scenes. Impressionistic paintings were painted quickly and the name came from the idea that they were “impressions” of what the artist saw on a particular day at a particular time; not carefully tended to masterpieces that took many drafts in an artist’s studio. Paintings completed in this style used bold shades of color to show how light reflected on the water and down from the sky on all kinds of things. An artist’s impression of a scene like a garden might be different on various days due to the weather or the season. Therefore, Monet painted and repainted many of the same scenes to show how the colors and light changed. This is seen especially in his paintingsof the Japanese bridge and those of his gardens at Giverney. One of Claude Monet’s favorite subjects for his paintings was his garden. He was very involved in planting beautiful varieties of flowers so that his art would be vividly colorful.

Claude Monet was born in Paris on November 14, 1840 and died at the age of 86 in 1926, having outlived two wives.

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