APART, yet in close affinity with his friends of the Batignolles group, stands Renoir. There was room for a Frenchman among the Spaniards and Japanese. In one respect he was superior to them all.
It is a credit to France that the most purely French artist of this great generation, to which we owe a new development of painting, should once more manifest the peculiarities of the old masters. He is sharply differentiated from Manet, who was his first inspiration, and still more sharply from Degas, while he seems to have nothing at all in common with Monet and his circle.
He, too, was attracted by decoration, but on the lines laid down so securely in the eighteenth century, that it would have reached a marvellous culmination had not its violent dislocation by the Revolution dimmed our modern appreciation.
Fragonard bore the same relation to Boucher as did Manet to Courbet. The Du Barry's gifted decorator preluded that development of flat painting, of which Manet was the supreme master. A period rich in forms lay behind him, when he gave himself up to the fancies of his brush. This no painter of a later generation could replace. Renoir, on the other hand, determined to reanimate the tradition which Baudry had falsified, by richer methods.
This explains the superficial aspects, but not the essential qualities of Renoir; it covers his sympathy with Impressionism, but not his specific value. As a third element, he introduced a rarity, precious as an antique jewel--a perfected material.
Degas may penetrate more deeply into our souls, Cézanne may stir our emotions more powerfully, Manet may kindle a more glowing enthusiasm in us, but Renoir has one thing that they all lack. Perhaps he is the only contemporary painter whose works would have made Rubens turn to look at them. He is the only one who is not fragmentary after the manner of the others, and his pictures, finished or unfinished, have not that hollowness of the painting Lyround, over which we look away with the others, to stray after other things. He shows how much that means. Again, we have that marvellous delight in the surface which is painting throughout and not only on the outside; the perfection that tormented Whistler and drove him and so many others to paint in dark tones, that caused Deizas to give up painting altogether, that Velazquez alone possessed; the goal of the supreme period of painting: the rendering of vitality with all the resources of the painter.
How he achieved it is a mystery. He showed himself a master very early in his career, when his enthusiasm was stirred by Manet, in the Lise of 1867, exhibited at the Salon the following year. It is now in the little museum of Hagen in Westphalia, and has made the spot a sanctuary of noble art, to which the Germans