Art Wednesday: Pierre-Auguste Renoir – French Impressionist Painter and Sculptor

Pierre-Auguste Renoir taken January 1875. Courtesy of Musée d'Orsay - Paris, France

Pierre-Auguste Renoir taken January 1875.
Courtesy of Musée d’Orsay – Paris, France

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.

Still-Life 1864 Oil on canvas, 130 x 96 cm Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur

Still-Life
1864
Oil on canvas, 130 x 96 cm
Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur

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).

Pont Neuf in Paris 1872 Oil on canvas, 74 x 93 cm National Gallery of Art, Washington

Pont Neuf in Paris
1872
Oil on canvas, 74 x 93 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

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).

The Swing 1876 Oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm Musée d'Orsay, Paris This painting was shown in 1877 at the third Impressionist group exhibition. In it, Renoir was adopting the style of 18th-century French painting, the tradition of the 'fêtes galantes,' and the manner of artists such as Watteau or Fragonard. At the beginning of his career, Renoir has copied works by these painters in the Louvre and had earned his living by painting fans in the Rococo style. The subject of the rural 'fête galante' was therefore one with which he was extremely familiar. These were open-air scenes, usually in the well-tended grounds of a large country estate, where people conversed or danced together, listened to music, or relaxed in some other way for instance by taking a leisurely swing.

The Swing
1876
Oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
This painting was shown in 1877 at the third Impressionist group exhibition. In it, Renoir was adopting the style of 18th-century French painting, the tradition of the ‘fêtes galantes,’ and the manner of artists such as Watteau or Fragonard. At the beginning of his career, Renoir has copied works by these painters in the Louvre and had earned his living by painting fans in the Rococo style. The subject of the rural ‘fête galante’ was therefore one with which he was extremely familiar. These were open-air scenes, usually in the well-tended grounds of a large country estate, where people conversed or danced together, listened to music, or relaxed in some other way for instance by taking a leisurely swing.

Dance in the Moulin de la Galette 1876 Oil on canvas, 131 x 175 cm Musée d'Orsay, Paris This picture is one of Renoir's largest composition. It features the cheerful attitude to life and the Impressionist theme of figures in the open air. The assembled company are enjoying the carefree mood of a Sunday and the agreeable warmth of the sunlight filtering through the leaves. Renoir painted the canvas directly from the scene, the models in the foreground are his friends. The Moulin de la Galette was a dancing garden, created by converting two old windmills in Montmartre, where the public could come and dance on Sundays.

Dance in the Moulin de la Galette
1876
Oil on canvas, 131 x 175 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
This picture is one of Renoir’s largest composition. It features the cheerful attitude to life and the Impressionist theme of figures in the open air. The assembled company are enjoying the carefree mood of a Sunday and the agreeable warmth of the sunlight filtering through the leaves. Renoir painted the canvas directly from the scene, the models in the foreground are his friends.
The Moulin de la Galette was a dancing garden, created by converting two old windmills in Montmartre, where the public could come and dance on Sundays.

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.

Blossoming Chestnut Tree 1881 Oil on canvas, 71 x 89 cm Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Blossoming Chestnut Tree
1881
Oil on canvas, 71 x 89 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

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.

Girl with a Hoop 1885 Oil on canvas, 126 x 77 cm National Gallery of Art, Washington This painting is the result of a commission to paint a nine-year-old girl named Marie Goujon. It is an example of Renoir's new style which he developed after his trip to Italy in 1881. Renoir called this style "aigre," or "sour." The word conveys a sense of the hardness and tightness of his new style.

Girl with a Hoop
1885
Oil on canvas, 126 x 77 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This painting is the result of a commission to paint a nine-year-old girl named Marie Goujon. It is an example of Renoir’s new style which he developed after his trip to Italy in 1881. Renoir called this style “aigre,” or “sour.” The word conveys a sense of the hardness and tightness of his new style.

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.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c. 1910. Dornac (1858–1941), photographer

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c. 1910.
Dornac (1858–1941), photographer

He died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, on December 3, 1919.

Madame Renoir 1916 Polychrome mortar, height 82 cm Musée d'Orsay, Paris This bust is of Renoir's young wife, Aline Charigot. The couple married in 1890. It was created in collaboration with Richard Guino (1890-1973). The sitter died in 1915, and Renoir had one of the busts erected on her grave.

Madame Renoir
1916
Polychrome mortar, height 82 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
This bust is of Renoir’s young wife, Aline Charigot. The couple married in 1890. It was created in collaboration with Richard Guino (1890-1973). The sitter died in 1915, and Renoir had one of the busts erected on her grave.

Roses 1890 Oil on canvas, 35 x 27 cm Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Roses
1890
Oil on canvas, 35 x 27 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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: 

Renoir Gallery of works

Suburban Pastoral, The Guardian, 24 Feb 2007

Avant-Gardist in Retreat, Holland Cotter, The New York Times, 17 June 2010

Timeline of French Artists

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)

Crash

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