Impressionism: Renoir's Great Bathers

October 2018

Impressionism: An Object-Based Study Workshop on Renoir's Great Bathers

The latest iteration of the Mellon Object-Based Study Workshop was hosted by PMA conservators Kristin Patterson, The Joan and John Thalheimer Associate Conservator of Paintings; and Mark Tucker, The Neubauer Family Director of Conservation. The day-long event was also co-organized by Jennifer Thompson, The Gloria and Jack Drosdick Curator of European Painting & Sculpture and Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection; and André Dombrowski, Associate Professor, History of Art; and included eleven graduate student participants from the art history departments at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of Delaware. In the afternoon, the group was joined by Barnes Foundation curators and Renoir experts Nancy Ireson and Martha Lucy, as well as Musée d’Orsay curator Sylvie Patry (formerly Barnes).

The workshop considered the materials and painting practices of late nineteenth-century French art. What kind of painting—including format, composition, and subject-matter—resulted from a thoroughly industrialized market of paint supplies: pre-fabricated paints and brushes, pre-stretched and primed canvases in standard sizes, and so on? The workshop focused on one of Auguste Renoir's most iconic paintings, today housed at the PMA: The Great Bathers, painted between 1884 and 1887, as the artist’s revision of the impressionist paradigm. After a morning of careful, in-depth study of the painting and other highlights of the PMA's important Impressionism collection led by the museum's team of conservators and curators, the afternoon was spent integrating the group's findings with the variety of possible interpretations that have been brought to bear on the painting, and the period, in the past and present. Many thanks to Nicole Cook, Project Coordinator for Academic Partnerships at the PMA, for her superb coordination of the event.

Graduate students from the workshop collaborate during a close-looking exercise in the Museum’s nineteenth-century galleries, October 19, 2018 (Photo by Jason Wierzbicki, Division of Conservation, Philadelphia Museum of Art)