Recently the ArtDaily Newsletter wrote about The Courtauld Gallery’s collection of Impressionist masterpieces. The report featured an
image of Pierre Auguste Renoir’s La Loge (The Theater Box), an 1874 oil painting.
The Impressionists were celebrated for their modernity, their study of society. What impresses me, studying an image of La Loge, not for the first time, is its chameleon-like quality. In the 1870s it bespoke Parisian theater society, but today, to me at least, it has a psychoanalytical aspect.
The handsome formally dressed man is preoccupied with examining other theater boxes with his binoculars. Perhaps he’s a banker studying his peers or even an aristocrat. But the woman, pretty but neither handsome nor beautiful, is looking straight ahead at us, the viewers, with an expression that might say, Please, can you tell me what I’m doing here with this stuffed shirt?
She might be Madame Bovary asking herself those fatal questions of hers, or she might simply be a member of the petty bourgeoisie feeling a bit uncomfortable in her skin and wondering if this is all life has in store for her, the same look I see every day in the faces of young women just out of high school and wondering if life has already passed them by.
In any case, her gaze is quintessentially modern in its interrogativeness. She is not an actor in a scene. She is not a familiar character. She is not a model. She could be one of us, looking at paintings in a gallery, looking at her own face. But she is in immediate contact with us. She thinks we might understand her predicament. And we do.—DM