Auguste Rodin at work in 1915 (screenshot via YouTube)

Auguste Rodin at work in 1915 (gif by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic via YouTube)

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.

YouTube video
YouTube video
YouTube video
YouTube video

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...

12 replies on “Rare 1915 Films Show Rodin, Monet, Renoir, and Degas in Their Twilight Years”

  1. I amazed by how little is revealed. All these great artists appear (at least to me) as generic old men, their genius hidden behind the facade of their stereotype. Monet produced among his very greatest paintings at the end of his life, but when I see him dabbing at the canvas at Giverny, I have to keep reminding myself that this is MONET I am watching, so much does he dissolve into just another bearded elder. I blame myself and, perhaps, the rudimentary nature of the film clips — not that it isn’t wonderful to have them.

    1. They were, after all people, not gods. I think these early silent films are grounding reminders of that.

    2. That is what is fantastic. These humans, who look like you and me, had the talent and drive and occasion to create some of the world’s greatest art. A reminder to look at people we pass on the street differently: we all bring a little something to the planet.

    3. You might be having that reaction because we’re spoiled with multiple forms of over stimulating media haha.

  2. I love the details: stone chips flying, stuck in Rodin’s beard; Renoir’s right hand – is that arthritis, the way he is holding the brush?

    1. I agree. Those were two of the most revealing details. Also seeing the comfortable exchange between Renoir and his son, the famous cinematographer.

  3. Has anyone identified the exact painting Monet was working on? We can see the right edge, the view (which doen’t tell us much because he probably painted it many times), and in the final frames we can see a small view of the entire canvas. It looks like he included the boat in the foreground.

  4. The young man in the Renoir clip may be Jean rather than Claude. Claude would have been about 13, while Jean was about 22. He talks in his biography of his father of wrapping velvet around Pierre’s hands so that he could hold his brushes. By the way, Claude is not the cinematographer. The cinematographer Claude is the son of Pierre, the oldest son of Pierre.

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