Last week, when God-Hates-Renoir protesters rallied outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, there was only one reason why anyone might have been surprised to see them there. The museum isn’t mounting a big Renoir show, or celebrating the artist in some other way. Any institution foolhardy enough to do so knows by now to expect some kind of pushback, because everyone hates Renoir, and everyone always has. Maybe even, yes, God.
So there wasn’t, in fact, a new or timely reason for the protesters to gather where and when they did—they just really hate Renoir. Max Geller, the leader of a group called Renoir Sucks at Painting, organized the strike earlier this week. And it’s fair to say Geller has strong feelings about the artist. Yesterday, after he received some counter-criticism from The Boston Globe’s art critic, Sebastian Smee—who called the protest at the MFA “sophomoric”—Geller challenged him to a duel on Boston Common. But in denouncing the anti-Renoir movement as a stunt, even Smee wasn’t going so far as to stand up for Renoir.
“Is it worth getting worked up about Renoir?” asked Smee. “He is an artist I detest most of the time. Such a syrupy, falsified take on reality.”
Looking back through art history, it’s clear that thinking Renoir sucks is a popular and well-established sentiment. Plainly, though, he must have had fans, or people wouldn’t feel obliged to organize against him today. It’s easy to see the early appeal: Renoir fell in with a camp of innovators, the French Impressionists working in the late 19th century, who were pushing the medium of painting forward, and art collectors and capitalists like Albert Barnes and Duncan Phillips rushed forward to support the new modernism. But not all of the experimental works that made the bulk of early modern-art collections has aged well. In hindsight, some of these investments were mistaken.