Until recently, if you'd asked my opinion on Pierre-August Renoir, I'd have looked up casually from my phone and replied, "Oh, you mean the French artist (1841-1919) who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style? Yeah, he's great. Love a bit of old Renners." Now, though, I'd be furious. Arms flailing, eyes bulging, I'd shout: "Renoir? That charlatan?! The man couldn't paint for toffee!" This change of heart isn't just because I'm as impressionable as wet clay (although it's partly that), but it's also thanks to the edifying influence of Renoir Sucks At Painting — a "grassroots movement" dedicated to reevaluating the painter's "overrated" and "shitty" oeuvre.
"Why do so many people think he’s good?"
The group has been running its campaign on Instagram for a while now, but reached a wider audience (myself included) when it picketed Boston's Museum of Fine Arts last week, demanding curators remove a number of Renoir's paintings. The movement's organizer, Max Geller, told The Guardian that Renoir is only considered a good artist because he appears in so many galleries. "Why do so many people think he’s good? Have you looked at his paintings?" asked Geller. "In real life, trees are beautiful. If you take Renoir’s word for it, you’d think trees are just a collection of green squiggles."
"A famous artist painted this. I swear to God."
"Small-headed Child who Power-Lifts with #sharpie_eyes & uncircumcised fusiform fingers struggles to defend #Renoir's painting abilities on social media."
"Use of yellow: unconscionable. Composition: not nourishing. Shittyness of background: steaming."
"Is she straight-up squashing a bird?"
Overall, it doesn't look great for the painter, and even his fans aren't that persuasive. Renoir's great-great-granddaughter, Genevieve Renoir, commented on the group's Instagram in defense of her famous relation: "When your great-great-grandfather paints anything worth $78.1M dollars (which is $143.9M in today's dollars), then you can criticize. In the meantime, it is safe to say that the free market has spoken and Renoir did NOT suck at painting."
Geller, however, doesn't think much of this argument, replying in a separate post: "YOUR ARMS ARE TOO SHORT TO BOX WITH GOD," before listing various entities the free market has also judged as worthy. These include "the Prison Industrial Complex; Slavery; Settler Colonialism; The destruction of sea otter habitats," and "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (457 Million Box Office!)."
Of course, you might just like how Renoir's paintings look, but in that case there's no helping you at all.