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The Jardin d’Essai, Algiers
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
The Jardin d’Essai, Algiers, 1881
Oil on canvas, 31 7/8" x 25 5/8"
MGM MIRAGE Corporate Collection (157)

These paintings of The Jardin d’Essai, Algiers and the Piazza San Marco, Venice were painted by Renoir in the same year, 1881, recording his travels to Algeria and Italy. Each image shows a typical postcard view of popular tourist sights in the two cities, described in the loose brushstrokes and brilliant colors typical of Renoir’s experimental approach to landscape painting.

In many ways the composition of The Jardin d’Essai, showing a shaded tree-lined path, resembles the natural setting of In the Woods painted four years earlier. In the case of the Algerian painting, however, the trees are not part of a natural forest but are planted at regular intervals along a lane called an allée, a popular feature of French formal gardening. In the distance, several figures promenade along the allée, the details of each figure described by only a few short brushstrokes. The exotic date palms that tower over the walkway signal that this is a very different place from the streets of Paris or the French countryside. Despite the foreign location, Renoir utilizes techniques similar to those in his other paintings to capture the effects of light on different surfaces.

Piazza San Marco, Venice
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
Piazza San Marco, Venice, 1881
Oil on canvas, 25 3/4" x 32"
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota
The John R. Van Derlip Fund (51.19)
In contrast to the brilliant color-filled canvas of The Jardin d’Essai, paint is applied more sparingly in the Piazza San Marco, with large areas of the canvas left bare. Using few brushstrokes, Renoir captures this famous view of Venice’s great landmark, painting the building as though it were made of light and color rather than built with stone, concentrating the most vivid pigments on the architecture while using softer tones around the periphery of the composition. Though this painting is signed in the lower right corner, Renoir made it as a study, a loosely worked painting created for the purpose of exploration and experimentation.

By the time these works were made, Renoir was a well-known artist in France and found a ready market for many of his paintings. However, Renoir was increasingly dissatisfied with the artistic goals of Impressionism which sought to dissolve natural form into a mosaic of color as a way of rendering light and atmospheric effects. His growing reputation and success as a portrait artist and figure painter at the Salon exhibitions overshadowed any interest he may have had in the small, but increasing market for Impressionist landscapes. Following his travels in 1881 and his second trip to Algeria in 1882, Renoir began a transition away from his Impressionist style toward a more classical approach to painting in which he sought to define form more solidly. He later described this transition saying, "Around 1883 there was a kind of break in my work; I had gone to the limits of Impressionism and I had reached the conclusion that I could neither paint nor draw. In a word, I was at a dead end." 1

1 As quoted by Sophie Monneret, Renoir: His Life and Complete Works (Stamford, CT: Longmeadow Press, 1995) 15.
 

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