Saturday, January 16, 2010

Renoir, French operetta, and the diva's bosom

First I must mention that the impressionists, or many of them, were wild about the theater, ballet and opera -- there being no radio, television, or musical downloads at your desk in those days. Degas had his nearly 1500 pieces of art on ballerinas, Mary Cassatt drew women at the theater, but Renoir was absolutely crazy about theater and music (I had said in a previous post that the composer Gounod had the young Renoir in his choir when the artist was a boy). Renoir used to stop by the house of the great operetta composer Offenbach and they would walk over to the théâtre des Variétés together, where the reigning diva was Hortense Schneider.

Ms. Schneider, as you can see by this portrait, had an ample figure and Renoir was very fond of such womanly attributes. One evening before a performance he was in her dressing room with Manet's brother Edmond and the novelist Zola who both droned on and on about theme in painting. Renoir turned to the diva and said, "That's all well and good, but on to more serious things! How is your bosom these days?" (He liked bosoms even more than music.)

"What a question!" answered the diva with a smile, and she opened her dress and let him see for himself. The novelist turned bright red and fled but Manet's brother, who was also an artist, was delighted. Maybe the novelist was too and ran home to write about it...

I love gentle Renoir and I would have loved to hear Ms. Schneider, who sang the lead in many an operetta in those days in Paris!


  1. Stephanie, what a hoot! Great story.

    Wouldn't it have been something to have heard her sing?

  2. I enjoy returning to this blog. It is lovely and restful.

  3. A lady after my own heart. I love you space Stephanie and will be sure to call from time to time to see how you keep.
    Warm regards and a lovely weekend to you,