In this paper I will be writing about the “Gaze” which is present within impressionist artist Renoir’s painting The Umbrellas. The gaze gives us a lot of insight of the figures and the relationships we may be viewing. In the case of Renoir’s work the insight the viewer gets is the actions and preemptive thought before a meeting of two people looking on as a spectator in the very same crowd. By using blurring techniques of background figures Renoir succeeds in creating a scene that appears like a glance, like a moment in time the viewer stepped upon and intently stared.
The gaze present in Renoir’s, The Umbrellas (c. 1883) is meant to provoke the conception of assessing a situation from afar, and endeavoring on the chance of action before your subject of interest notices your intentions. Renoir places the viewer in the role as the spectator watching the scene of a young woman carrying a basket, lingering behind her with his full attention is a man as if leaning in to speak to her or offer her shelter from the rain, as she has none.
This woman, attractive, is gazing away from the man towards the direction of the viewer eyes glazed, vulnerably clutching her dress. To her right in the crowd the spectator makes eye contact with small girl continuing the gaze as her mother is watching her intently, and sure enough would follow her daughter’s gaze catching the viewer staring. This gaze makes full circle whilst the spectator awaits this chance to approach the young women passing by the crowded street vastly filled with brush stroked umbrellas.
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Renoir plays with the projection of a moment in time of a man meeting a woman or two people who will miss the opportunity and pass by. The gaze freezes this brief moment in time making it as if the viewer themselves are within the crowd weighing the situation before it occurs trading “on contemporary anxieties of the necessity of weighing up a situation and acting quickly in order to evade detection.. ”(Smith, 40). True to the impressionist way being that “the impressionists attempted to paint what the eye actually sees, rather than what the brain interprets from visual cues. (Gilbert, 459)
Renoir painted The Umbrellas as a glance over a crowd and with the face of the flaneur man behind the young woman of interest was clearly less detailed and blurred. Blurred as if glanced over quickly an uninteresting figure to the viewer, whilst the woman is in clear view and draws the eye of the spectator as if they were in the crowd and caught off guard by her presence. The way the woman’s “eyes seem removed from her immediate surroundings: their mysterious searching look contrasts with the carefree, wide-eyes glance of the little girl and the protective downcast glance of her mother. (Kern, 33).
As well as how Renoir positioned the body of the woman looking outwards in contrast to the innocent and straightforward stance of the little girl connect and contrast one another. This contrast continues the gaze from person to person connecting the spectator to the scene creating the feeling of anxiousness and fear of being caught staring whether by the mother or the young woman of interest herself. As well the little girl holding the hoop is very prominent as the viewer would see her staring at him and take notice not only to her but to the mother that they would fear would also soon catch the gaze.
This piece by Renoir is very much successful in creating a feeling of anxiety in the spectator due to his use of placement of figures and brush stroke technique of blurring out non-prominent figures. Though most of all it is successful due to the gaze that lies present in the image of this busy city street view. As one looks upon this painting you feel as if you yourself have stopped at a moment in time to look upon the scene contemplating your next actions. As the gaze reaches the end of its journey you feel an urge to look away before a figure feels your stare upon them and turns from the painting and looks at you.
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