Renoir Comes Home
In the summer of 1883, Pierre-Auguste Renoir sat at his easel, enjoying the unique light and beauty of Guernsey's stunning coastline. He created many masterpieces in the month he stayed on the island, never imagining how much these works of art would inspire the generations that survived him and the journey that one particular painting would take.
Renoir’s passion lives on thanks to Art for Guernsey, a local charity, which is now shining a light on the transformative power of art. With a team of passionate professionals, the charity is bringing the local community together – with a little help from a very special painting.
Founded just seven years ago, Art for Guernsey is the brainchild of David Ummels, a Belgian art enthusiast with an unwavering belief that art can be a true force for good, giving a voice to the local community and creating a positive impact that ripples beyond the island’s shores.
“When I arrived in Guernsey, I instantly felt a connection with the local community and an appreciation for this society built on honesty, integrity and decency. This rich cultural heritage and values form the basis of Art for Guernsey – it’s the charity’s DNA to create value in response to that,” David explained.
Together with a small team that shares David’s passion and vision, Art for Guernsey has worked tirelessly to improve the community through collaborative art projects, workshops, educational initiatives, and scholarships.
Later this year, the charity opens its new gallery in Guernsey, providing a permanent hub for international artists in residence as well as an art library, a children’s wing, exhibition spaces and a strong room to display more valuable pieces and house special projects.
However, it is Renoir’s enduring link with Guernsey that has proved instrumental in both achieving the charity’s aims and delivering art to new audiences.
For six weeks in the summer of 1883, Renoir, already a famous artist in his own right, spent time in Guernsey with his future wife and a journalist friend. Tired of the familiar portraiture he was used to in France, he was particularly struck by the light and beauty of Moulin Huet, a small corner of the south coast where the uninhibited nature of the bathers inspired a new love of capturing landscapes and nudes in the same frame. It was a period that influenced some of his most notable works, helping to breathe new life into his career and creating a fresh style of art.
In 2019, during the centenary of Renoir’s death, the charity commissioned five steel frames that they strategically placed so visitors could see and appreciate Moulin Huet from exactly the same perspective as the artist. Throughout a five-day exhibition, thousands of visitors, including local schoolchildren, were invited to view an original Renoir drawing, bringing the artist’s legacy to life.
“The exhibition was monumental because it created such an impact both within and beyond the local community,” says David, “so much so that the frames are here to stay and national media still features them!”
Bringing a masterpiece back to the island
Having already made great strides within the local community, the charity has a host of projects in the pipeline to further promote Guernsey’s brand overseas. As David explains, “We were extremely lucky to bring Cyrille Sciama, a world authority on Renoir and Director of the Giverny Museum of Impressionism, on board as a key partner. His support has helped us to look ahead to how we can create more impact, particularly within local schools.”
Cyrille’s key contribution has also been to connect Art for Guernsey with other major international museums, thanks to his credibility, while his moral support helped Art for Guernsey to achieve their greatest feat yet. In 2020, a small group of like-minded collectors joined forces with Art for Guernsey to purchase an original Renoir painting, bringing it back to the island, where it belongs.
That year, the painting, ‘Rochers de Guernesey avec personnages’ (plage à Guernesey), took pride of place at a special exhibition at Beau Sejour, called ‘Through the Eyes of a Master’. “The impact of that exhibition was more than we could possibly imagine,” says David. “We had people from all walks of life, from teachers to fishermen, thanking us for bringing Renoir home.”
Once again, the painting will take centre stage alongside other Renoir works including those from the National Gallery and the Musée d’Orsay, during a trailblazing exhibition in Guernsey celebrating the 140th anniversary of his stay in Guernsey. “It’s been three-and-a-half years in the making and thousands of hours of collective commitment, but we’re proud that our Renoir will stand amongst others borrowed from numerous prestigious international museums. Helen Glencross and her team at Guernsey Museums have been a brilliant partner in this journey. We are also very grateful to our headline partner Investec for their generosity; Brendan Stewart and his team have been fabulously supportive.”
“In everything we do, we constantly strive to deliver back to Guernsey”
While the tourism potential of the exhibition is a driving force, it is the educational element that continues to garner the most enthusiasm. “Guernsey is tied to France through Renoir and we’ve been building so many bridges there, working with Cyrille and the team at Giverny Museum to open up French exchange opportunities, including a new twinning between Giverny and the Parish of St Martin’s. We can learn a lot together about educating through our shared love of art, and that’s exciting. Art needs to be seen, and children play a vital part in preserving our cultural heritage while encouraging us to create a new one. We want them to benefit from the joy and purpose art can bring.”
David concludes, “We’re proud our Renoir is playing its part in bringing that dream to life.” Art for Guernsey and Education have been collaborating with 530 Year 3 students across 11 primary schools as part of a ‘Cultural Enrichment Programme’ to bring Renoir’s works to life.
‘Rochers de Guernesey avec personnages’ (plage à Guernesey) will go on public display at Guernsey Museum at Candie Gardens from 30 Sept – 17 Dec as part of the exhibition ‘Renoir in Guernsey, 1883’. For more information, visit www.artforguernsey.com.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir visits Guernsey. Over one month, he paints a collection of 15 Guernsey landscapes, intrigued by the local bathers and the unique light. This was a crucial time in his career, influencing a change of style.
Renoir creates ‘Rochers de Guernesey avec personnages’ (plage à Guernesey), widely considered to be one of his finest works of art of all time.
Arts for Guernsey celebrates the centenary of Renoir’s death with a new ‘Renoir Walk’, encouraging islanders to experience Renoir’s views through a series of specially-commissioned frames.
The painting is purchased at auction by a group of collectors closely aligned with the ethos and goals of Art for Guernsey.
The painting is displayed publicly in an exhibition in Guernsey, called ‘Through the Eyes of a Master’.
Art for Guernsey participates in ‘Normandie Impressionisme’, an art festival bringing 2 million visitors to Normandie, as the first-ever non-French participants.
The painting travels around 13 local schools, educating pupils as part of the island’s ‘Cultural Enrichment Programme’.
The painting forms part of a Renoir exhibition celebrating the artist’s life and works, ‘Renoir in Guernsey, 1883’.