Cry, Cry, Cry

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Onions, 1881. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Onions, 1881. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Legend tells that when I was a tot, my mother placed a slice of onion and a piece of candy side by side on my highchair.  I reached for the onion and ate it every time, candy be damned.  (The bright beginnings of masochism.) But today I don’t have to choose. Renoir paints these tear prone alliums like luminous cotton-candy meringues. Onion candy.

This man could make anything breathtaking. Though he usually picked lovely subjects, innocents. Smooth-skinned children and freckle-free women washed in pink serenity. The layering of beautiful style on beautiful subjects curiously turns me away. Sweetness too saturated.  The too painful re-telling of the monumental beauty myth.

For being yellow onions, there is a paucity of that color. Instead, pink, cerise, and salmon rule highlights of green and yellow.  The background, in strong diagonal strokes, rains down patches of green and blue. A storm, tossing bulbs about. The onion tops wave like flags in a gale. The curve of the table  forcefully pushes out the perimeter of the painting  and the whitecap napkin catches onions and garlic in a blue ribbon net.

Renoir plays cruelly with us here. Making us desire these blushing onions, this Venus candy. Knowing full well the bitter wince if we bite. Tears will flow. Some will burn. Finally he tells us the truth about beauty. So fearsome, so lovely and so deeply desired.  It will bring us to tears.

And you can buy it in the Kimbell gift shop to hang in your kitchen.


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