This 1893 painting is a late example of Renoir's mastery, drawing as it does on a lifetime of technique and his core artistic values.
Perhaps the earthiest of the Impressionists, Renoir liked to paint life as he found it, and was criticised by his contemporaries for his lack of pretension. But for all this apparent guilelessness, there is always a story behind any of his paintings, and "Still Life with Pomegranates" is no exception.
It depicts just that, a bowl of pomegranates, set atop a white tablecloth. But that isn't simply all that's happening here, the tablecloth is rucked up, imperfect, as though it had been hastily laid, or knocked or pulled by some outside agency. This isn't a still life as carefully composed declaration of perfection, this is still life as it is found, slightly messy, more real. It is a fruit bowl which the viewer can imagine existing.
The slight messiness of the tablecloth does something else as well: it sets off the perfection of the fruit, the perfect, round pomegranates, not yet fully ripe, though that hasn't stopped someone taking a slice from one of the fruits, to reveal the purple seeds and meat within.
This begs the question why, the pomegranates are not yet at their best for eating, when the skin is wrinkled and the flesh within succulent. Maybe someone just couldn't wait, the same impulsiveness which has led to the tablecloth's imperfection. Thus we have motion within the still life, a suggested motion, actions off the stage, away from the serene composition of the fruit. Indeed, maybe the same motion which has caused some of the fruit to fall from the bowl.
The bowl, with its charming floral design pointing to a comfortable, middle class lifestyle (a subject for which even Renoir's close friend Degas teased him) is offset by the dark green of surrounding wreaths of leaves. These help to highlight the round, glowing tones of the bowl, the fruit, wall and tablecloth. Renoir was fascinated by light, holding it to be at least as important as composition, and a trip to Italy, where he was heavily influenced by paintings by Rubens and Raphael, infused his later work with an increased appreciation of its power.
Renoir was perhaps the truest of the Impressionists, remaining faithful to his techniques and subjects even as the rest of the movement headed in a more modernist direction. This fidelity to Impressionist ideals can clearly be seen in "Still life with Pomegranates". The blurred brushwork, the sense of being in the present and the honest treatment of its subject matter add up to an engaging, immersive painting. A fine example of an artist at the height of his powers.