"Nature's Workshop" by Robert L.              Herbert

Nature's Workshop Renoir`s Writings on the Decorative Arts Robert L. Herbert

Publication date:
10 Apr 2000
Yale University Press
296 pages: 235 x 156mm
14 b-w + 18 color illus.


This book shows Auguste Renoir in an entirely new light, revealing an artist far more complex and thoughtful than previously believed. Seven unknown and unpublished texts written by Renoir, along with four other writings once published but now largely forgotten, are presented here in both French and English. They identify Renoir as an impassioned critic of architecture, architectural decoration, and the education of artists.

These surprising texts were written in 1883–84, when Renoir hoped to found an exhibition society grouping all the crafts, and around 1910, when he prepared several drafts of a preface to a French translation of Cennino Cennini’s medieval treatise on the arts. Robert L. Herbert has uncovered Renoir’s “Grammar of Art,” long believed lost, and has disproved the idea that his reading of Cennini was related to his trip to Italy in 1881. Renoir provides a walking tour of Paris with abundant references to specific buildings exhibiting the Second Empire architecture he found so despicable. He examines academic art, modern industry, and how together they undermine the values of craft and individuality. And he insists that good art like nature never achieves perfect geometry or symmetry but is unregimented, “natural.” Herbert discusses Renoir’s aesthetic in the context of the flow of ideas on the decorative arts at the time and reassesses the artist in the light of these lively rediscovered writings.

Robert L. Herbert is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Mount Holyoke College. He is also the author of Monet on the Normandy Coast.

?Robert Herbert has discovered extensive manuscripts revealing that Renoir?s ambitions as an aesthetic theorist were greater than had been realized. . . . The emergence of these documents and the publication of all of them in full, in both French and English, is an immediate cause for celebration. . . . Nature?s Workshop will be indispensable to any serious study of Renoir. . . . Herbert?s essay throws significant new light on [Renoir?s] biography and the development of his ideas.??John House, Burlington Magazine

?Distinguished art historian Herbert . . . has recovered Renoir?s writings: published but lost, and unpublished manuscripts and letters. His discovery sheds new light on Renoir.??Choice

?This invaluable book, which reassesses Renoir in the light of his stimulating writing, should be of particular significance to scholars of the great painter, and of interest to all who enjoy his superb paintings.??Byron Ireland, Day By Day

?Impeccably edited by Robert L. Herbert. . . . [This book] will find a place in the library of anyone interested not simply in Renoir and Impressionism, but in the visual arts in France during Renoir?s lifetime. Herbert also produces useful, short introductions to Renoir?s own texts.??John Golding, New York Review of Books