The Paris Review

Daddy Issues: Renoir Père and Fils

The filmmaker Jean Renoir made a career of dismantling the beliefs of his absentee father, the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Jean satirized the aristocracy and upended his father’s saccharine scenes of leisure. An exhibition now at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, looks at their relationship.

Jean Renoir, still from La Chienne, 1931 © Les Films du Jeudi

The Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir rarely spent time with his second son, Jean. Whenever Pierre-Auguste was around the house, he demanded to be called —“the boss”—rather than the more typical , and Jean grew to view him more as a boarding school headmaster than as a father. As for the actual parenting, that was mostly left to the family’s nanny, Gabrielle Renard. Renard, who was only sixteen when she moved into the Renoirs’ home in Paris, spent years with Jean—taking him to the movies and to puppet shows, playing with toys and strolling the winding streets of Montmartre and the seaside in Cagnes-sur-Mer, where Pierre-Auguste moved the family. Ultimately, Renard became one of the central influences on Jean’s filmmaking career: where his father’s paintings often portrayed their French aristocratic class in an earnest, sentimental light, Jean’s films cut deeper, “She taught me to detest the cliché.”

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