Quotation: "With such hands, how do you paint?" "With my prick" (Pierre Auguste Renoir)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 17 18:46:44 UTC 2012

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (ODQ) notes that the phrase: "I
paint with my prick" has been attributed to Pierre Auguste Renoir, but
the editors placed the statement in the Misquotations section.

Both the ODQ and The Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ) list a valuable
citation for the following phrase attributed to Renoir:

"It’s with my brush that I make love"

The two references point to the 1919 book "Renoir" by Albert Andre.

I believe this is an English translation of a French phrase. Here is
an excerpt based on extracted text from the 1928 edition of "Renoir"
in the Google Books database. The ". . ." is in the original text.
(Diacritical marks have been removed because the font is not
transported correctly via email.)


[Begin excerpt]
"C'est avec mon pinceau que. . . j'aime"
[End excerpt]

Here is a longer excerpt.

[Begin excerpt]
Toutes les joies de la vie et les desirs qui peuvent assaillir le
cerveau et les sens d'un homme, il les ressentait plus que tout autre
peut-etre, mais il les resolvait sur sa toile. La peinture le grisait.
"C'est avec mon pinceau que. . . j'aime", repondait-il, avec moins de
solennite toutefois, aux curiosites egrillardes des visiteurs
{End excerpt]

ODQ and YBQ suggest that "I paint with my prick" may have ultimately
been derived from the above quotation. Yet there is another
interesting source.

In 1962 Jean Renoir, the prominent filmmaker and son of Pierre Auguste
Renoir, published a biography of his father. The English translation
was also released in 1962, and it contained the following relevant

Cite: 1962, "Renoir, My Father" by Jean Renoir, [Translation of Renoir
by Jean Renoir, Hachette, Paris, 1962], Translated by Randolph and
Dorothy Weaver, Chapter 17, Quote Page 205-206, Little, Brown and
Company, Boston. (English text verified on paper in 1962 edition)
(link to 2001 edition)
[Begin excerpt]
Once, towards the end of his life, I heard him make the following
rejoinder to a journalist who seemed to be astonished by his crippled
"With such hands, how do you paint?" the man asked, crudely.
"With my prick," replied Renoir, really vulgar for once.
It took place in the dining room at Les Collettes. There were a
half-dozen or so visitors present. No one laughed at his quip. For
what he said was a striking expression of the truth; one of those rare
testimonies, so seldom expressed in the history of the world, to the
miracle of the transformation of matter into spirit.
[End excerpt]

This event must have occurred before 1919 since that is the year of
Pierre Auguste Renoir's death. A version of this story apparently
reached the ears of D. H. Lawrence by 1928 because he included the
following passage in Lady Chatterley's Lover:

Cite: 1982, Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence, [Note inside
book: Text from the third manuscript version, first published by
Guiseppe Orioli, Florence, 1928] Page 77, Grove Press, New York.
(Verified on paper)
[Begin excerpt]
Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis . . . he did too,
lovely pictures! I wish I did something with mine.
[End excerpt]

In 1929 D. H. Lawrence again referred to Renoir in the introduction he
wrote to a book that reproduced his taboo paintings:
Cite: 1998, Selected Critical Writings by D. H. Lawrence, Edited by
Michael Herbert, [Text from "Introduction to These Paintings"; Chapter
of "The Paintings of D. H. Lawrence"; Published in 1929 by Mandrake
Press, London], Page 260, Oxford University Press, Oxford. (Questia)
[Begin excerpt]
If a woman didn't have buttocks and breasts, she wouldn't be
paintable, he said, and he was right. Ca fait du bien au corps! What
do you paint with, Maitre-With my penis, and be damned! Renoir didn't
try to get away from the body. But he had to dodge it in some of its
aspects, rob it of its natural terrors, its natural demonishness.
[End excerpt]

In 1969 the noted author Bernard Malamud employed the most common
modern version of saying in a linked collection of short stories about
an art student named Fidelman:
Cite: 1969, Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition by Bernard Malamud,
Page 161, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York. (Verified on paper)
[Begin excerpt]
I paint with my prick. Renoir. I paint with my ulcer. Soutine. I paint
with my paint. Fidelman.
[End excerpt]


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