Competition is harsh in gallery 201: its the first gallery visitors see as they enter the impressionist galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago. Caillebotte’s photographic interpretation of urban life in Paris Street; Rainy Day, Renoir’s calming strokes and colors in Near the Lake and the many other exemplary impressionist works are each capable of individually carrying a gallery. Having all of these works gathered in the same room seems almost too luxurious. More luxurious than the art vaults of the richest of the rich.
With the works of art lined up side by side, it is all the more difficult to decide which one truly outshines the others. The shiny canvases simply force you to run back and forth between the pieces as you struggle to place your favors. I actually found one of my favorite art works because of this well-curated room. Unlike the glows of masterpieces the paintings around it had, this one gave off an unassuming aura. It didn’t stand out, but on closer look, you could see evidence of Renoir’s feminine sensuality and soft yet defining strokes. It didn’t have the vibrant colors of Two Sisters (On the Terrace), but had the same light, sensual female representation.
The woman in Renoir’s Woman at the Piano is far from stunning: dressed in nothing but a plain white dress, she casually taps at a piano. She is seated in front of a murky background that further deducts away from the little remaining vibrancy in the painting. That’s what I love about this painting, though. Unlike Near the Lake or Two Sisters, Renoir doesn’t dress up his subjects, nor place them in front of beautiful scenery. Maybe because of this, not much people stop to gaze at this painting. All the better for me since I don’t feel pressured to move away no matter how long I spend in front of it.
I guess that’s why this piece became my favorite in this room. It was a valuable representation of Renoir’s talent at his best, yet doesn’t draw the gazes and discussion of those around me. The subtle beauty in the painting might not tickle the fancy of all museum goers, but because of its relative unpopularity, I can selfishly indulge myself in this work of art. Kind of like an under appreciated security, you know?