Art for Guernsey is capitalising upon Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s significance to the island in a number of innovative ways, which is good news for the whole community. David Ummels, Chamber’s Head of Creative Industries, is the driving force behind this exciting initiative..

Renoir has a special significance for Guernsey as he spent just over a month on the island in 1883 and worked on 15 paintings during his stay, the majority depicting views of Moulin Huet. In 2019, Art for Guernsey celebrated his importance to our island by putting together the Renoir Walk; this was just the start of their exciting plans.

The Renoir Walk is marked by five specially commissioned picture frames, placed in the exact spots where the artist worked on his paintings to allow viewers to see Moulin Huet from the same perspectives as he did. QR codes on the panels beside each frame can be scanned with a smartphone to play an audioguide by Cyrille Sciama, Director of the Musée des Impressionnismes in Giverny and a world authority on Renoir.

Planning permission was recently granted to make the Renoir Walk a permanent fixture, and the Lieutenant-Governor, His Excellency Vice Admiral Sir Ian Corder, joined the extended AFG family to inaugurate the walk and officially declare it open.

Energised by the overwhelming enthusiasm from the community to the walk, AFG successfully syndicated a group of local art collectors to acquire one of Renoir’s original paintings. Rochers de Guernesey avec personnages (plage à Guernesey) is considered to be one of the best Guernsey-painted Renoirs and is one of just five of the original artworks still in private hands; the other 10 sit in major museum collections, including the Met Museum in New York, London’s National Gallery and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. 

David Ummels, founder of AFG, says: ‘Thanks to the generosity of the local collectors who strongly believe in our ethos, we join the ranks of these illustrious fellow collectors of Guernsey Renoirs. This opens many doors for collaboration in terms of curating, research and cultural exchanges as we intend to actively capitalise on the artwork to engage and promote Guernsey positively.’

Since the original Renoir has not been in Guernsey since 1883, AFG is excited about celebrating this important part of our artistic heritage with islanders with an innovative, free exhibition taking place at Beau Sejour from 28 September – 4 October. Bailiwick schools will be able to engage with the artwork, which will kick-start an ‘Art in School’ season that will allow students to respond to Renoir’s art through their curriculum. 

When he inaugurated the permanent Renoir Walk, Sir Ian Corder spoke about the power of art to help societies to come together and move forward after tragedies. ‘This new painting is coming back from our past at the right time to help us to build a better and more inspiring future, and this show is the perfect excuse for us all to rejoice and celebrate life,’ agrees David. ‘We will dedicate a special day to welcome islanders from disabled associations and retirement and care homes, so they can confidently reconnect with the outside world in the context of a joyful event.’

Using art to promote the island through cultural diplomacy is very much on the charity’s agenda, so a private viewing evening on 30 September will seek to rally vibrant entrepreneurial, institutional, civil and political forces to support its long-term goal of curating an international exhibition featuring as many Guernsey-painted Renoirs as possible, in collaboration with French and other international museums. 

Cyrille Sciama, Art for Guernsey’s guest of honour when the walk was first opened, spoke about how influential Renoir’s visit to Guernsey was on his career: ‘His stay gave him a new way to paint because he could combine the figures of bathers with landscapes. It was a really important step; it gave him a new way of thinking and he went on to change his style.’ 

David concludes: ‘We’re bringing back this artwork where it belongs for the right reasons – to inspire children and the community,support the local tourism industry and, in the future, curate an international exhibition highlighting how Guernsey played a key role inspiring Renoir’s career. We look forward to celebrating with islanders in the autumn at our exciting show.’