This is an oil painting on canvas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) in the impressionist period. This was painted in between 1890 and 1895, and was titled as “Reading (La Lecture).”
It was painted with short and casual brushstrokes, without strong texture. The color tone of the background in general is quite cold, with a lot of fuzzy and short strokes in many different values of green and brown. The foreground mainly consists of the half body portraits of two girls in a warmer color hue. The focal point of the painting lays the faces of two girls. The girl sitting closer to the viewers is in a pale yellow dress, while the one next to her is in a pinky-orange dress. Following the gazes of the girls, a viewer can find a book at the bottom right corner. The book is held by the girl in the front. The other girl in pinky-orange has her right arm across the back of the girl in yellow, and has her left hand holding her chin.
The painter has positioned the two subjects in a triangular shape, with the two faces as the top of the triangle, the book at the bottom right and the end of the hair at the bottom left as the bases of this triangle. This triangular shape, sitting in the very front, occupies almost one-third of the painting. Besides, this triangle is well balanced and symmetric. In spite of the causal brushstrokes, the girls are in good proportions and comparatively realistic. While the subjects in the foreground formulate a stable triangular shape, the brushstrokes in the background seem to be in a flowing movement. The color chosen for the background on the left-hand side is darker (mainly in dark green and brown) in order to allow the girl on the left front becomes more outstanding. In contrast, the color for the background on the right-hand side is lighter (mainly in light green and muddy yellow) in order to allow the girl over the right foreground to stand out.
With the structural composition and careful layout of the subject matters, this painting depicts a quiet moment of reading. The girls concentrate very much at what they are doing. The brighter and warmer color tone of the subject matters seems to convey a comfortable reading atmosphere. However, the two girls are not facing the light when they are reading. The light, in fact, is only shinning on the backs of the girls. Despite the comfortable atmosphere, the girls seem be trying to read in secrecy. This interesting scene perhaps reminds a lot of viewers about their childhood in which everyone probably have had some little secrets hidden from the adults around them. Many Renoir’s paintings embrace and celebrate different small moments from lives. By focusing on the ‘here and now’ of his time, Renoir has captured these fleeting moments and turned them to be nostalgic memories.
Although this painting may not be about any heroic stories, it does successfully build up a connection with the viewers in a subtle way. It reminds the viewers those interesting moments from childhood that they may have long forgotten. Besides, the painting does have a nice composition. First of all, the focal point with the girls’ faces is well organized. Following the gazes of the girls, one can find the book that is well connected with the arms and then the hair the girl in the front. The triangular shape does a nice job of keeping the viewers’ eyes looking around and around the subjects; therefore, able to build up a deeper relationship with the painting.