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Renoir, La Loge

Pierre Auguste Renoir, La Loge, 1874, oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 24 5/8 in. (80 x 63.5 cm) (Courtauld Gallery, London) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris, Rachel S. Ropeik This painting was exhibited by Renoir at the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris (1874). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music) Voiceover: So, here we are looking at La Loge, which is a painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir in the Courtauld Galleries in London and it's from 1874, which is the magical year of the beginning of the Impressionist Exhibitions, which actually they just started out as paintings that weren't accepted at the official yearly exposition of paintings, and then all the Impressionists said, "Well, if you're not going to accept our paintings we'll start our own show," and that was the year, 1874. Voiceover: Yeah, they were desperate for some recognition. Voiceover: They needed someone to look at them. Voiceover: Yeah. This was a time when they were no real galleries for contemporary art and they wanted people to see it. Voiceover: Interestingly enough, though we may not think of it this way this would have been shocking at the time, the way this was painted. Voiceover: Oh it's incredibly loosely painted. Voiceover: Very much so, and it's this scene of modern life. It's not a classical story, or a religious story or anything. It's two people out at the theater as you would go to the theater in the 1870s. Voiceover: I guess the loge was a level of the theater just like it is today. Right? Voiceover: They were kind of in like an opera box, and this is very much what people would do. You'd sit in the loge and the woman always sat in front by the railing, and you can see she has her right arm resting on this cushioned railing. Then the man would sit behind her and look at other people. Voiceover: Right. Voiceover: He's not looking down toward a stage at all. Voiceover: No, he's looking around to see who else is at the theater. Voiceover: Exactly. Voiceover: And who they're with. Voiceover: It was a very gossipy society. I suppose it's not that different from our celebrity tabloids obsession. You know who's out with who and who's wearing what. Voiceover: It's like the whole painting though is really this pyramid shape of black and white stripes formed by her dress. What a great dress. Voiceover: I know. The thing that always impresses me about this painting is that it is very loosely painted, but you get a lot of detail of what she's wearing and her pearls and her corsage and her earrings and the flowers in her hair. He manages to get that all in there without giving you exact detailed contours of everything. Voiceover: So, she's really upper class, right? I mean this is an expensive dress, it looks to me. Voiceover: It was an expensive dress, but she's probably not his wife. The women who wore the most ostentatious dresses were actually sort of these upper class courtesans who would be trotted out on the arm of their patrons which is probably who this man is in the background. The woman who posed for this was actually a fairly famous artist's model whose nickname I always like, which was Nini Fish-Face. (laughing) Voiceover: That doesn't sound very nice. Voiceover: Well I think she has a lovely face. Voiceover: She's beautiful. What's important to remember as we're talking about this, for me, is that we look at this and this just looks like two people dressed up at the opera and we easily lose sight of what it was like in Paris in the 1870s. Issues of class and dress and all these codes that are kind of lost to us now but that we really need to decode the painting. Voiceover: It's very enjoyable just to look at the sumptuousness of her dress but then also thinking about the idea that this was a scene of modern life. Voiceover: This way that she's on display. She immediately becomes a specific kind of woman. Voiceover: Yes, and the status symbol and social class that's inherint in that. Voiceover: But without that modesty of a middle class woman who would have gone to the opera and without also probably a kind of modestly and uprightness of a truly aristocratic woman. So she becomes a very specific type. Voiceover: But I love thinking that a contemporary viewer of this would have known that right away. Voiceover: Immediately. Voiceover: And people had this whole body of knowledge at the time of what social class you belonged to based on how you presented yourself in public. Voiceover: And it might be interesting also then to go out into our own world, out into the streets of London and think about the ways that we read people based on what they wear and who they're with. (piano music)