In 1903 Renoir moved to the south of France with the hopes of alleviating his rheumatoid arthritis. Sixteen years later he died. I carried a single bottle of wine to France. A 1997 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia. This was symbolic for a number of reasons. Most importantly when Wirestone, the company I founded with Bryan my travel partner on this trip, completed its first round of venture financing we gave each of our vice presidents, investors and key clients a bottle of 1997 Phelps Insignia. Nearly 4 years later, Bryan and I cracked a bottle in Cagnes-sur-Mer on the grounds of one of the greatest French Impressionists, Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Some might think this act would be one of heresy. Bryan I thought it was just the right thing to do at the right time. The setting was perfect. The irony abt. And the wine — excellent. To be sure, later that evening we opened a bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy from Gevrey-Chambertin. But for Renoir, nothing but the best of California.
Traipsing across his estate I was enamored with the gnarly olive trees. Expressing themselves with twisted trunks and limbs, i could only think of Renoir stuck in his wheel chair with arthritis so bad his hands and knuckles grossly deformed and extremely painful. But the beauty of his painting in those final years, and his sculptures and those who came to learn and be inspired and even to inspire the master. I was amazed. Looking over his gardens at the Medieval village of Cagnes, down to the coast to Cannes. And I imagined how the beauty that Renoir captured and while not fair for me to say, but the development, the Auto Route and the nasty 60's-esque architecture that today litters the view that inspired Renoir and so many. But I brought myself back. Walking the grounds and thinking how small those olive trees were in his paintings. And how big and gnarly they were today. Nothing stays the same. But the more it changes…
A must stop for anyone in south of France. Visit Renoir's home and see France at the turn of the century.
Photos: (1) Nudes from Renoir's Cagnes-sur-Mer home and studio; (2) Classic Renoir painting, “Luncheon of the Boating Party”; (3) View from window of Renoirs home of medieval Cagnes; (4) 100+ year old olive tree on Renoir's property in Cagnes-sur-Mer; (5) Renoirs studio nearly as he left it after his death on December 3, 1919; (6) A close up of another gnarly trunk of an old Renoir olive tree.