Renoir’s Onions

Emerson, our cultural founding father, thought that the major contribution of the art of his own time was a new understanding of ordinary life. I am reminded of Emerson’s admonition whenever I make a pilgrimage to see one of my favorite paintings in all of New England: Renoir’s group portrait of six onions and two bulbs of garlic, painted in Naples in 1881. In them, one can see in a flash what Meyer Schapiro meant when he called still-life painting part of “a democratizing trend in art that gives a positive significance to the everyday world.”

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