“My God is it really him!” says one of the comments for this Youtube video and I must admit I shared those feelings when I saw it for the first time just as I marvelled at the smoke billowing out of the end of Renoir’s cigar! (cough, splutter) Is he trying to set fire to himself? Steady on old feller! There are at least two of these clips floating around. There’s a good one of him sharing a cigar with Ambroise Vollard, also a pretty major cigar smoker to judge from the clip that was found in an unidentified tin in Harvard University . This one by filmmaker Sacha Guitry, I suspect is the one described in Vollard’s book “Renoir, an Intimate Record”
“Sacha Guitry had come to take moving pictures of him, knowing the painter’s inability to refuse anything.
“If I could only get you with a brush in your hand!” he said
Renoir just happened to have a picture to sign. He had it put on the easel and called for his colour-box. From the far end of the room I could see his brush moving on the canvas. When the operator had stopped turning, Renoir put out his hand for little Claude to unfasten the brush from his fingers.
“But papa you didn’t sign the picture!”
“I’ll do that another time.”
“From the movements of your hand,” I remarked, “one would have thought that you had signed it two or three times.”
“No, I just added a little rose!”
Towards the end of his life Renoir was crippled with osteoarthritis. The painter Matisse, who used to visit him a lot at this time described him as being corpselike and so small that “you could pick him up in one hand quite easily” and yet despite being in continual pain his enthusiasm for painting survived undimmed. “The pain passes, Matisse, but the beauty remains”
Here’s a short quote from the second volume of Hillary Spurling’s biography of Matisse
“The canvas had to be wound on a roller so that the painter could work on it bit by bit in his garden studio, a wooden hut standing beneath olive trees on a hillside above the sea with big windows to let in the light on all sides. The English writer Frank Harris said Matisse had tears in his voice when he described Renoir at Cagnes: a tiny mummified figure stripped of everything but intelligence, memory and the passionate will to transfer what he saw in front on him–two girls lolling on a grassy bank==to a deeper and more stable level of reality in paint. Renoir’s example marked Matisse indelibly. He looked back on it afterwards when age and ill health capsized him in turn. In his first years in Nice, he drew courage and consolation from a visit to Cagnes whenever his own problems threatened to get out of hand.”