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Renoir’s Depiction of a Woman
Throughout time, females in society have been subjected to the mistreatments and biases from civilization, with the majority stemming from the males in their society. Women have been mistreated to such extents as being deemed useful solely for procreation to being evil, deceitful, and whorish, with only one motive: destroy man. Such biases and objectifications placed upon women as those mentioned above can be plainly observed throughout years and years of artistic productions, literary productions, and a vast array of media. In the art realm, women were often portrayed in a manner which showcased the discriminations individuals such as males held against women along with the varying and often harsh views directed toward society’s females.
In artistic history, one male artist stands out among the rest because of how he portrayed women throughout his many artworks. The artist, Pierre Auguste Renoir, often painted women in a way which displayed them to be whores, useful only as maternal figures, and sometimes even devoid of any intellectual abilities. Renoir’s attitude towards womankind was one which today would be highly frowned upon and protested by vast members of society because his outlook towards women was not only severely biased, it was also highly chauvinistic. Renoir often said that he felt women were only placed upon the earth to procreate, raise children, and do the household duties while their husbands, fathers, and brothers went out and worked all day to provide for the family. Renoir displayed this take on women in his artwork through a multitude of paintings in which women, who were the subjects of his creations, were painted holding their children in their arms and gazing at them lovingly, feeding their child, usually from the breast. The feeding women were either wet nurses or mothers who were “expected” to fulfill their maternal duties as Renoir may have put it by nourishing the children all day long. Renoir felt that fulfilling one’s maternal responsibilities was a woman’s duty. Renoir often displayed women in his paintings as creatures who represented nourishment for mankind and man’s offspring. Renoir also showcased females as homemakers, in which throughout a series of paintings, women were shown washing their family’s laundry, preparing meals, or cleaning around the household. The third manner which Renoir often employed in the depiction of female subjects in his paintings was that of the whore in society. Upon displaying women as whores, Renoir was not only opening up a realm of never-ending subjection to abuse and biases as well as the objectification of women from society’s individuals, especially the male population, but he was also empowering judgmental individuals with the abilities to accuse women of being evil whorish creatures who were motivated solely by their desires to seduce males and then bring upon them their deaths.
One highly significant painting created by Renoir which exemplars his chauvinistic attitude towards women and womankind in general is a piece entitled “A Reclining Nude” which he created in the year 1897. The female subject in “A Reclining Nude” is positioned in such a manner in the painting that her arms are outstretched revealing the full of her chest. One arm is above the subject’s head and she appears to be resting upon it. The other arm of the subject is laid out to the side of her body and only half of the subject’s outstretched arm is shown in the picture. Also, the nude female in Renoir’s art piece is painted so that her body is showcased in the picture from the waist and up. It appears that since her breasts are painted in the center of the piece, Renoir may have intended them to be the main focal point of the painting. The last descriptive element of Renoir’s painting “A Reclining Nude” is the demure of the subject as it is depicted upon the expression she is making with her face. The nude subject’s facial expression is very calm, placid, peaceful, and serene. The eyes of the female subject are closed. The closure of the subject’s eyes is most likely due to the intent of the artist to have his creation viewed in a non-threatening or confrontational manner. It may be that Renoir chooses to paint the subject of “A Reclining Nude” with closed eyes because throughout art history, the gaze of a subject reflected upon viewers may be confrontational in manner and is sometimes believed to deter viewers from examining an artist’s work because the gaze of a subject (especially a nude subject) upon a viewer may cause the viewer to feel guilty or highly uncomfortable for looking at a nude subject.
The main connotation Renoir displays in his painting “A Reclining Nude” appears to be the subject’s breasts as they are in the center of the painting and may potentially be seen as the focal point of the piece. Within the painting, it becomes clear that the subject is merely a symbol for sex or perhaps due to her nudity and placid facial expression she is a whore who permits the world to view her in what society may deem as an inappropriate manner. The fact that the female subject’s breasts are exposed for viewing becomes a strong issue in both the art realm and in society because in both perspectives, nudity, even in art, may be frowned upon because such openness as revealing oneself to the world in media such as an artist’s paintings/portraiture may be considered highly erotic in nature and such an act as exposing oneself to be ogled in a potentially erotic manner is often shunned by the individuals of society for its lack of audacity. Although the breasts of the subject in Renoir’s painting are highly significant, the expression painted on the face of the “Reclining Nude” is even more noteworthy. As was briefly mentioned before the woman in Renoir’s painting is depicted wearing a look of contentment, relaxation, and calmness. One may even reason to say that the subjects facial expression makes her appear to be carefree in her regards to both her nudity and the world around her. The lighthearted manner of the female subject may cause viewers to see her as a whore in the painting because she is so carefree about the fact that her nudity is exposed for the entire world to see. With the expression of blithe which the subject sports, it appears as if she may be inviting the world to view her nudity and she welcomes the subjection of her body to viewing and objection by society.
The most important factor in considering the analysis of the painting “A Reclining Nude” is the gender of the artist. Pierre Auguste Renoir is a male and therefore, by basic nature and gender instincts his view and depiction of a female individual upon an art canvas is entirely different than that of a female member of society. Renoir’s erotic instincts are displayed throughout his piece in not only the blatant nudity of the painted figure but the focal point of the piece (the subjects bare breasts), and the lack of temerity shown not only in the design of the painting but on the subject’s facial expression as well. The fact that Renoir chooses to display the subject in the manner which he does indicates that he may be bending to his male instincts of eroticism and may not care that the way that his subject is being depicted leaves her open to subjection and objectification from society for the style in which she exposes herself for viewing. Furthermore, the largest issue concerning the topic of the artist’s gender and the mode in which he paints his subject is the fact that in his painting the subject does not appear to have a shred of clothing on her body at all. Throughout art history, the vast majority of society’s male artists when depicting female subjects in the nude do not leave a piece of clothing on the bodies of their subjects which may add temerity to the overall appearance of the subjects. Female artists however, often add some form of clothing or coverage to their subjects when displayed as nude in an artwork as this act gives the subject some appearance of innocence, decency, and reticence. It can be clearly reasoned that the gender of the artist in cases such as this concerning “A Reclining Nude,” plays an important role in analyzing an artistic creation because one must take into account the artist’s gender and his or her concepts and influences about the subject to be painted, drawn, etc.
Overall, it can be concluded that Renoir’s painting “A Reclining Nude” does not break free from tradition representation but rather it neatly adheres to the stereotype of the masculine in art society because the piece of discussion was painted in such a manner that the common masculine view of woman as a whore is displayed. The example of Renoir’s “A Reclining Nude” makes one conscious to how an artistic image relates to our conception of gender, be it male or female because artist’s such as Renoir who paint subjects, especially in the nude, cause us to question the motives, beliefs, influences, and stereotypes of the artist which causes him/her to depict the subject in the manner which he/she chooses to do. In conclusion, one’s conception of gender in relation to an artistic image causes one to consider the vast stereotypes placed upon males and females and then consider how those stereotypes may play a pivotal role in how a male or female artist conveys his or her work to the world.