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Oedipus Rex by Pierre Auguste Renoir

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Oedipus Rex by Pierre Auguste Renoir

- Item No.

The painting portrays the final scene of the drama, where a blinded Oedipus exits the palace

Key Features

  • Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir ingeniously captures the dynamic state of Greek theater
  • Entitled Oedipus Rex, this exceptional painting depicts a scene from the play by Sophocles
  • Renoir's fame, as well as the classical scene and notable patronage, distinguish this work
  • The artist was perhaps the most beloved of the Impressionists
  • Stamp signed "Renoir" (lower right)
  • Circa 1895
  • Canvas:13 7/8 " high x 13 7/8 " wide Frame:23" high x 23" wide

Item Details

  • Width:
    C: 13 7/8" F: 23" Inches
  • Height:
    C: 13 7/8" F: 23" Inches
  • Period:
    19th Century
  • Origin:
    France
  • Artist:
    Renoir, Pierre-Auguste
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
1841-1919 · French

Oedipus Rex

Stamp signed "Renoir" (lower right)
Oil on canvas

 Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir ingeniously captures the dynamic state of Greek theater in this awe-inspiring composition. EntitledOedipus Rex, this exceptional painting depicts a pivotal scene from the Greek tragedy of the same name by Sophocles. The painting portrays the final scene of the drama, immediately after Oedipus has blinded himself and exits the palace confronting the citizens of Thebes and begging for exile because of his sins. This intimate masterpiece displays Renoir's uncanny ability to render life, movement and texture and clearly exhibits the brilliant color that the artist infused into all of his works. The exquisite tension and turmoil of the moment is depicted with Renoir's quick, feathered strokes and intuitively blended applications of pigment.

Perhaps one of the best loved Impressionists of all time, Renoir captures all of  his subjects with grace and sensuality and is famous for his extraordinary canvases. The artist is often revered for his figures, still-lives, and landscapes but it was because of his distinct and highly innovative color palette that highly-charged dramatic moments, such as this one, could be rendered with such success. It is because of this diverse subject matter that many academics praise the artist's body of work. 

The Athenian tragedy, Oedipus Rex, was first performed in 429 BC and chronicles the story of Oedipus, who becomes the king of Thebes. Oedipus is abandoned at birth because his father, Laius, receives a prophecy that he would be murdered by his own son. As soon as the infant Oedipus is born, Laius orders his wife, the Queen Iocaste, to kill the infant. Unable to do this, Iocaste leaves the boy on a mountainside. The infant, Oedipus, is then rescued by a sheperd, who gives the infant into the care of the King of Corinth.

The drama continues when as a young man Oedipus is told by an oracle that he will shed the blood of his father and marry his mother. Desperate to avoid this fate Oedipus flees Corinth. During his journey Oedipus travels on the road to Thebes and encounters Laius. Unaware of each other's identities, Laius and Oedipus quarrel over whose chariot has the right of way. The argument becomes violent and ends when Oedipus throws Laius from his chariot and kills him. Shortly after, Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx freeing the kingdom of Thebes from a curse and as a result the Queen, Iocaste, marries him. At this point in the play both prophecies are fulfilled, although none of the characters are aware of it.

As the play unfolds many more incidents of divine providence occur and the truth of the situation is eventually revealed to the leading characters, but only after Oedipus and Iocaste have had many children together. Horrified by their relationship Iocaste hangs herself and Oedipus blinds himself so as not to see the sin of their children.  It is at this point in the play that Oedipus emerges out of the palace to confront the citizens of Thebes with his blindness and to demand his exile. It is precisely this scene of classic Greek tragedy that is portrayed by Renoir in this exceptional and intimate portrait.

It was Renoir's friend, the actor Jean Mounet-Sully that suggested that he use the drama by Sophocles as the theme for his series of paintings commissioned by Paul Gallimard in 1895.  Mounet-Sully had achieved a considerable level of theatrical fame in the role of Oedipus and Gallimard was the Director of the Music Hall in Paris. Gallimard commisioned the paintings from Renoir to decorate his homes in Paris and Normandy but eventually decided not to adopt the Oedipus motif.  As a result, this painting and related studies were later dispersed in the artist's studio.

Born in Limoges, France, Renoir began his career as an apprentice to a painter of porcelain wares then moved to Paris at the age of 21 enrolling at the prestigious École des Beaux Arts. It was here, while studying under Charles Gleyre, that Renoir attained a tremendous appreciation for the academic style of painting, a quality that would last throughout his career. This was also a time in which he met Claude Monet and several other classmates who would later establish the French Impressionist group.

Working closely with Monet, Renoir began experimenting with the portrayal of light and its effect on his canvases. The youngest member of the Impressionist movement, an astute Renoir recognized how a subject was constantly changing due to the dynamic effects of light on color. Capturing a particular moment in time, or an "impression," rather than a subjective scene, was central to the group's philosophy, which became the most important artistic phenomenon of the 19th century.

Relying heavily upon his academic training that focused upon composition, lines and descriptive details, Renoir distinguished himself among his contemporaries. His intuitive use of color and expansive brushstroke, along with an acute attention to his subject, have placed him among the finest painters in history.

Today, Renoir's work continues to increase in value demanding high prices at auction, and the drama of Oedipus continues to be a quintessential icon of western literary, artistic and psychological genres. Renoir's fame, as well as the classical scene and notable patronage of this particular work make it an important acquisition for any collector of 19th century art. Circa 1895

Canvas:13 7/8 " high x 13 7/8 " wide
Frame:23" high x 23" wide

 Provenance:
Christie's, Tokyo, February 1980, lot 363
Arnold Saltzman, New York
Sotheby's New York, March 1998, lot 15
Private Collection, South America

Artist's Exhibitions: 
Impressionist Exhibitions, Paris, 1874, 1876, 1877
Société des Artistes Français, Paris
Salon d'Automne, Paris, 1904  

 Artist's Museums: 
 The Louvre, Paris
 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 
 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
 Art Institute of Chicago
 Tate Gallery, London
 The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
 The State Museum Gallery, Munich
 National Gallery, Berlin
 Museum of Art and History, Geneva
 Philadelphia Museum of Art
 New Orleans Museum of Art
 

 References:
Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, 1864-1901, Peintre, Vol. 2, Paris, 1927, p. 179, Maurice Joyant
 Toulouse Lautrec et Son Ocuvre, Vol. 5, New York, 1971, no. D.3, 208, illustrated on p. 525, M.G. Dortu
 Tableaux, Pastels & Dessins de Renoir, 1918, Ambroise Vollard
 The Great Book of French Impressionists, 1980, Horst Keller
 The Random House Dictionary of Art and Artists, 1988, Collins Publishers
 The Impressionists, 1967, Francois Mathey
  Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs  , 1976, E. Bénézit
  Davenport's Art Reference  , 1994/95 Edition, R. J. Davenport

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