Finding Fresno: My quest to discover all the things I’ll love about Fresno

Posted by Gretchen Moore

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 Let’s start with the most obvious…

Pierre-Auguste Renoir once remarked, “Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.” Renoir, one of the most famous artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries passionately celebrated beauty and sensuality in his artwork. He was a French painter who, along with Claude Monet, was a central figure in the creation of the impressionist movement which focused on capturing and representing the first impression of an object upon the viewer. Renoir’s work is characterized by a richness of feeling and warmth of response to the world and to the people in it.

Renoir is best known for his paintings which sell for millions and are showcased in every top museum around the world. Late in life, Renoir took up sculpture and, along with his assistant, Richard Guino, created incredible works including La Grande Laveuse (Washer Woman) in 1917. It is generally considered Renoir’s sculptural masterpiece.  Only a few original castings of this sculpture were released and they are housed in the some of the most prestigious art venues throughout the world including Fontvieille Park in Monaco, The Tate Gallery in London, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Kemper Art Museum.

Oh, and there’s also a La Grande Laveuse in Fresno, CA.

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Washer Woman (Renoir, 1917) on the Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno

You didn’t know that? Well, it turns out that a lot of people don’t know that there is a bona fide masterpiece right in the center of downtown Fresno. Even many Fresnans aren’t aware that one of Renoir’s most unique works is sitting in the middle of the Fulton Mall. What’s even more remarkable is that this sculpture is not behind glass, protected by lasers or placed out of reach in a museum. It’s part of a collection of 20 works of art valued at over $2 million on downtown Fresno’s Fulton Mall. And you can walk right up to it and touch it.

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A group of children playing on Renoir’s La Grande Laveuse in Fresno, CA.

The fact that other cities have secured their La Grande Laveuse out of reach while Fresno’s is completely accessible to any and all who pass is a testament to the very spirit of Fresno. Renoir’s La Grande Laveuse in Fresno is practically a metaphor for the city itself: The sculpture has been described as strong, earnest and humble. And while Fresno often fails to receive the many loud and proud accolades that it deserves, this city, like the sculpture, remains strong, earnest and humble even in the most challenging times.

I moved to Fresno almost 6 months ago and I have found this to be a city full of hidden treasures, remarkable people, delicious food, beautiful streetscapes and outstanding architecture. I think the artist Renoir would appreciate that in a world where there are far too many unpleasant things, his La Grande Laveuse in downtown Fresno is a wonderfully accessible celebration of beauty.

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