PHILADELPHIA -- Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the impressionist icon universally known for his portraits of pink-cheeked children, sun-dappled boaters and fleshy nudes, is getting a closer look in a new exhibit as an innovative and accomplished landscape painter.
More than 60 paintings from museums and collectors around the world were assembled for "Renoir Landscapes 1865-1883," which opens Thursday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for anyone who only knows Renoir for his portraits," said curator John Zarobell.
It is the exhibit's sole U.S. appearance; it ends Jan. 6.
Fourteen of the paintings have never been seen in an American museum.
The word "landscapes" in the show's title shouldn't be taken too literally, however. Visitors will also see Renoir's roiling seascapes, bustling Parisian cityscapes, gardens, tourist scenes, even a raucous festival inside a crumbling Algiers amphitheater.
The exhibition runs counter to criticism of Renoir's work as sweetness-and-light depictions devoid of political or social commentary.
In his early en plein-air (in open air) landscapes, Renoir allowed himself the freedom to experiment with different painting styles and compositional approaches that he didn't try in his more refined -- and often commissioned -- portrait work.
The vivid oils from his 1881 trip to Algiers may be the most unexpected, from the color-saturated palm trees that resemble bursting fireworks in "The Jardin d'Essai" to the lush purple aloes in the underbrush of "Algerian Landscape." They illustrate a drama rarely seen in his best-known work.