Renoir was born in Limoges in 1841 as the child of a working class family. In 1845 his family moved to Paris where he went to work at the age of 13 as a decorator of factory-made porcelain, copying the works of Boucher.
From 1862 to 1864 he attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and studied under Charles Gleyre. He met Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley. He exhibited at the Salon in 1864.
His early work reflected many influences including those of Courbet, Manet, Corot, Ingres and Delacroix. Under the influence of Gustave Courbet and painters of the School of Barbizon he turned to plein air painting. He began to earn his living with portraiture in the 1870s; an important work of this period was Madame Charpentier and her Children (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Together with Claude Monet he develops the new painting style of Impressionism around 1870, he is regarded as one of its main representatives. He partakes in three group exhibitions of the Impressionists, for financial reasons he then again shows works at the conventional salons. However, his situation improves as the art dealer Durand-Ruel is his reliable customer.
Renoir developed the ability to paint joyous, shimmering color and flickering light in outdoor scenes such as The Swing and the festive Moulin de la Galette (both: 1876; Musée d’Orsay, Paris).
In 1881-82 Pierre-Auguste Renoir goes on three longer journeys to Algeria and Italy. Returning to Paris, a successful exhibition in 1883 established him financially. His painting style slightly leaves the grounds of Impressionism as of the early 1880s, he begins to emphasize contours more and to model the physical features more plastically. His ecstatic sensuality, particularly in his opulent, generalized images of women, and his admiration of the Italian masters removed him from the primary Impressionist concern: to imitate the effects of natural light.
After a brief period, often termed “harsh” or “tight,” in which his forms were closely defined in outline (e.g., the Large Bathers, 1884-87; Museum of Art, Philadelphia), his style of the 1890s changed, diffusing both light and outline, and with dazzling, opalescent colours describing voluptuous nudes, radiant children, and lush summer landscapes.
In 1890, he married Aline Victorine Charigot, who, along with a number of the artist’s friends, had already served as a model for Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881), and with whom he already had a child, Pierre, in 1885. After his marriage, Renoir painted many scenes of his wife and daily family life, including their children and their nurse, Aline’s cousin Gabrielle Renard. The Renoirs had three sons, one of whom, Jean, became a filmmaker of note and another, Pierre, became a stage and film actor.
In 1898 Renoir begins to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, which makes it hard for him to do artistic work. He spends more and more time in the dry climate of Southern France, as of 1905 he makes Cagnes his permanent place of residence. A first retrospective is shown at the Paris fall salon in 1904.
Despite illness and personal tragedy he began to produce major works of sculpture together with Maillol’s student Richard Guino, who worked the clay, a co-operation that had been arranged by Ambroise Vollard. Renoir also used a moving canvas, or picture roll, to facilitate painting large works with his limited joint mobility.
He died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, on December 3, 1919.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one of the founders and major figures of the Impressionist movement. He has become identified with its world of Parisian leisure (gardens, cafés, dances, boating scenes) which he infused with a luminous sensuality derived from his apprenticeship as a painter on porcelain of 18th-century Rococo scenes.
His later work is devoted primarily to the representation of the female nude, with which he is most associated. Among writers, support came from Zola, Huysmans, Verhaeren, and above all Mallarmé, one of his closest friends, whose portrait he painted in 1892.
On the Web:
Suburban Pastoral, The Guardian, 24 Feb 2007
Pierre-Auguste Renoir at Find a Grave
Impressionism: a centenary exhibition, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Renoir (p. 179-200)