My father was passionate about art and art books, and I’ve always shared that love and fascination for the lives and work of artists. I was going through a box hidden away in the basement last week and discovered a very nice little art book on Renoir that must have come from Dad’s library. It’s called Renoir’s Garden: A Celebration of the Garden that Inspired One of the World’s Greatest Impressionist Painters, by Derek Fell. I was very familiar with Monet’s gardens at Giverny, but I really didn’t know much about Renoir’s home and gardens, called Les Collettes, in Cagne, France.
Late in his life, Renoir fell in love with the area around Cagnes — with the light, the views of the Mediterranean, and the olive trees. He bought Les Collettes, in part to make sure those ancient olive trees were kept safe from developers. At Les Collettes, his wife, Aline, was given the freedom to work with a designer and build the house of her dreams. It became a very happy family home. For Renoir, it also became a place of light and color, and inspiration.
The book is divided into five sections: A Vision of Earthly Paradise; The Farmhouse and the Olive Grove; The Gardens Around the House; The Orchards, Vineyards and Vegetable Gardens; and The Main House — The Final Years. It is filled with photographs and paintings, and shows much of Renoir’s inspiration for the paintings of the last period of his life. Each chapter combines the biographical story with descriptions of the garden plans and plants.
“The formal garden which Madame Renoir laid out was to have a pattern of oranges and roses as its principal theme. Renoir’s own preference was for simple flowers, massed together without any complex interplanting. He liked the bold dash of colour created by beds packed with single varieties of flowers — spring-flowering bearded iris in one area, winter-flowering ivy-leaf pelargoniums in another, and patches of summer-flowering lavender everywhere.”
“His life and work were prolonged in this land of blue skies and sunshine”, art critic Gustave Geffroy wrote by way of eulogy. “There he was able to breathe and paint, to contemplate its greenness and flowers, its sky and water. There on the doorstep or at the bottom of his garden was all than was beautiful and smiling in nature for Renoir’s use.”
This book was an enjoyable way to learn more about Renoir’s life and work. I loved reading the descriptions of the home and gardens at Les Collettes, and loved all the beautiful photographs and paintings. It left me with a longing to travel to the south of France to see Les Collettes, now a museum.
I read this book for Joy’s Non-Fiction Five challenge, (although it wasn’t on my original list) because it’s the kind of non-fiction I so enjoy.