La Loge (The Theatre Box)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir showed La Loge (The Theatre Box) at the first Impressionist group exhibition in Paris in 1874. The painting was designed make an impact there. Its modern subject of a contemporary, fashionable-looking couple in a loge at one of Paris’s premiere theatres was unprecedented in painting. Renoir’s tightly cropped composition, giving the sense of a snapshot of modern life, was highly unconventional. In addition, his careful staging of the figures in stereotypically gendered roles – the woman having lowered her opera glasses to become the focus of attention, the man having raised his to look at someone else in the audience – creates an intriguing game of gazes, surely intended to provoke comment.
Indeed, critics responded extensively to the painting. Some admired Renoir’s new subject matter and his painterly technique, praising his ‘qualities of observation and remarkable qualities of colour.’ However, several reviewers were troubled by the appearance of Renoir’s couple, especially the woman. They were concerned that she was not a respectably married member of fine society but rather a victim of fashion, overly dressed and excessively made-up, trying to push her way onto the social scene.
Although new to painting in 1874, theatre box subjects were a familiar feature of French fashion magazines, where they provided a stage for illustrations of women modelling the latest evening wear. Loges were also often pictured in satirical journals as a setting to poke fun at their occupants’ social foibles or romantic liaisons. Renoir’s La Loge contains aspects of both contemporary fashion and satire, but his main concern was in demonstrating his dazzling painting technique. The scene was carefully arranged in the artist’s studio, with a model called Nini Lopez posing for the woman and Renoir’s brother, Edmond, the man, in order for Renoir to create a symphony in black and white. The bold stripes of the woman’s highly fashionable dress are a flamboyant counterpoint to the man’s similarly-coloured evening attire. His brushwork is delicate and fluent throughout. The virtuoso performance of works such as La Loge soon established Renoir as one of the leading Impressionist painters of his generation.
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