In 1915, with the newly innovated film camera, a young Russian-born, French actor named Sacha Guitry captured some of France’s greatest artists and authors. His footage of Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and other luminaries in their twilight years appeared in his first cinematic work, a 22-minute silent film called Ceux de Chez Nous (Those of Our Land).
Last week, Open Culture shared the clips of Rodin, Monet, Degas, and Renoir, showing the artists in their studios, homes, and walking out on the Paris streets. Open Culture has posted the footage before in separate articles, and the films were originally uploaded by John Hall to YouTube in 2013, but this recent piece groups them together in the same time frame.
Rodin, just two years before his death in 1917, stands on the weedy steps of the Hôtel Biron, now the Musée Rodin. A later scene shows him at work on a sculpture, hammer and chisel in hand, while huge works like “The Thinker” loom in the background. Monet is also at work out in his Giverny garden, painting en plein air while dressed in a white suit, a well-burned cigarette dangling between his lips. Meanwhile, a 74-year-old Renoir, who would die in 1919, sits at home with his arthritic fingers. Guitry himself makes an appearance, talking to the old artist. And in the most serendipitous, Guitry set up on the sidewalk until Degas, wearing dark sunglasses to protect his nearly blind eyes, strolled by. The vignettes are brief documentary portraits of these influential artists, offering a quick, but personal, insight into the lives and creation behind their now iconic work.