Phillips welcomes back old friends, celebrates new space

Critical Eye

April 16, 2006|By GLENN MCNATT | GLENN MCNATT,SUN ART CRITIC

GOOD FRIENDS HAPPILY GATHER UNDER A restaurant's bright striped canopy on a balmy summer day. The ladies wear silk dresses and stylish hats, the gentlemen suits or sailing outfits with yellow straw boaters. Among them are actresses Ellen Andree and Jeanne Samary, painter Gustave Caillebotte, financier and newspaper editor Charles Ephrussi and the redoubtable Baron Raoul Barbier -- war hero, former mayor of colonial Saigon, indefatigable bon vivant and aficionado of fine racehorses and women.

Amid this exuberant company, the happiest of all, though, is the adorable Aline Charigot, who sits coquettishly across the table from Caillebotte wearing an expression of pure delight as she coos endearments to her tiny lapdog terrier. She's just been engaged to the painter of this sunny scene, and it's obvious that the artist, 40-year-old Pierre-Auguste Renoir, loves her madly. He's made her one of the prettiest women ever painted on canvas.

THE RENOIR RETURNS: A CELEBRATION OF MASTERWORKS AT THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION / / Through July 30 / / Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. N.W., Washington / / 202-387-2151 or phillipscollection.org

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