Art Critic Peter Schjeldahl Says ‘Silly’ Renoir Haters Will ‘Get Over It’

He says this is just a youthful phase.

Auguste Renoir Le bal du Moulin de la Galette 1876 Huile sur toile 131 x 175 cm Musée d’Orsay © Rmn-Grand Palais / Hervé Lewandowski

Auguste Renoir
Le bal du Moulin de la Galette (1876) <br>Musée d’Orsay © Rmn-Grand Palais / Hervé Lewandowski

If you’re still unsure where you stand on Pierre Auguste Renoir after last week’s fracas and ensuing social media storm at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston—where a group of Renoir haters publicly expressed their utter disgust for the painter and started an Instagram feed titled “Renoir Sucks at Painting,”—look no further than the avuncular advice of New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl.

The venerable writer weighed in in a column titled “Hating Renoir Is Just A Phase,” in which he deemed the group of picketers “silly” and—social media storm aside—asks the central question: Is Renoir “great” or just “ghastly”?


Schjeldahl recounts his own journey from liking then hating to, again, liking the work of the artist. Here’s a snippet from his account of the earliest stage:

“Renoir’s winsome subjects and effulgent hues jump in your lap like a friendly puppy. He’s easy. No need for unctuous parental guidance. (The first reproduction I bought for a dorm wall was “Moulin de la Galette,” Renoir’s scene of sun-dappled conviviality, from 1876.)”

Then, as often happens, people “graduate to supercilious, or worse, earnest snobbery.” He admits that he himself “veered between one and the other,” a condition marked by feeling appalled that you and your grandmother might have similar tastes.

Schjeldahl seems to think the protesters fall in the latter group.

He then gives the lowdown for a realistic but mostly impassioned defense of the artist: He “painted very well when he cared to.” He “did so in radical ways imported from outside academic convention.”

Schjeldahl asks whether the Renoir Sucks at Painting haters have ever “truly looked” at Renoir’s Dance at Bougival, one example he offers of a painting with “a beat to it, and a glow.” He declares “This is no candy-box fantasy.”

His final piece of advice: “If you must hate yourself a little for loving Renoir, do so. You’ll get over it. And, when you think about it, who’s keeping score?”

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