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Thank You for Being a Friend

Pierre–Auguste Renoir

Morisot did it for Manet. Monet did it for Renoir. Bazille did it for Monet. Renoir did it for Bazille. In fact, most of the Impressionists did it for one another, seemingly all the time.

Just what were they doing? Posing. Perhaps more than any other group of artists, the Impressionists painted one another. It could be argued that they needed each other; many of them were close to broke, especially at the start of their careers, and they couldn’t afford models. But it also might be the case that one of the revolutions of the Impressionist period was the elevation of the “Everyman.” No longer was portraiture restricted to depictions of the aristocracy or famous figures throughout history. A painting of Monet’s mistress, for example, could be as grandly scaled as the finest society portrait.

In Frédéric Bazille’s 1867 portrait of a mid-20s Renoir, the young artist sits in a rather rakish pose on a chair, his knees casually pulled up to his chest, his hands loosely folded together. His pose suggests the stereotypically relaxed and freewheeling artist, but his clothes could measure up to those of any man of society. At this time, Paris was the style capital for women’s fashion, but men’s wear was dictated by London. Colors were muted, clothes were sober, and what determined “fashionability” was not elaborate trimming but instead a fine cut and perfect fit. Renoir is even wearing boots with elastic inserts—a 19th-century innovation that enabled men and women to put their boots on without hassling with closures—much as we wear today. Because men’s clothing was fairly conventional and existed on a small spectrum, the way that a man could express himself (especially in a static portrait) was in his attitude and how he carried himself.

Now we don’t know if Bazille posed Renoir or if Renoir situated himself, but what we have to infer is that it would have been exceptionally uncomfortable to sit like this for an extended period of time. And that’s friendship, folks.

Image Credit: Frédéric Bazille. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1867. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on deposit to the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, DL 1970 3.