I Paint with My Prick

Pierre-Auguste Renoir? Jean Renoir? Ōe Kenzaburō? Jeanette Winterson? D. H. Lawrence? Bernard Malamud? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The master painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir is my favorite Impressionist artist. For many years he has been credited with the following outrageous facetious quotation:

I paint with my prick.

Recently, I was surprised to discover that the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has placed this phrase in their Misquotations section. This important reference work presented the following phrase attributed to Renoir in 1919 and suggested that the quote above may have been inaccurately derived from it [OXPR]:

It’s with my brush that I make love

Could you explore the provenance of these phrases?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence connecting Pierre-Auguste Renoir to both of the quotes listed above. QI believes that the first quote is based on a conversational exchange that occurred between Renoir and a journalist that was witnessed by several individuals and reported by his son. In 1962 Jean Renoir, the prominent filmmaker and son of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, published a biography of his father. An English translation was also released in 1962, and it contained the following significant passage about the elder Renoir [JRAR]:

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 hands:
“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.

The quotation ascribed to Pierre-Auguste Renoir can be constructed by compressing the dialog of the journalist and the painter into a single direct statement. The elder Renoir died in 1919, so the episode described above occurred decades before the biography was released. However, there is additional evidence for the quotation that was published much earlier. The notorious 1928 erotic classic “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D. H. Lawrence contained the following passage in chapter four. The ellipsis appeared in the original text [CLDL]:

Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis . . . he did too, lovely pictures! I wish I did something with mine.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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