Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919)





Pierre-Auguste Renoir


Birth name Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Born February 25, 1841, Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France

Died December 3, 1919 (aged 78), Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France

Nationality French

Movement Impressionism


Renoir particular genius lies in the way he applied Impressionists technique and theory not only to landscape, still life and painting figures out of door, but also to compositions, figures and portraits, and applied his own very personal vision to the type of subject chosen by French eighteenth century painters: Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard. He painted them ruddy and orange the sunshine, slender at first, them plump, opulent but never indecent. Caught its atmosphere of carefree joie de vivre, and fresh uninhibited sense of enjoyment characteristic of middle class circles and above all of the students. The world he paints glorifies, simple pleasures and the happy dreams of youth. He loved the young of all ages; he seems to have been on of very few painters who could convey the subtle appearing of young people and various aspects of their characters. He also loved all women , from little girls to adolescents, working girls and plump peasant women, to fashionable upper middle class ladies. He had a special gift of painting female nudes with warmth and affection, making light play on their fresh delicate skin  seemed to come to life under his touch. He painted women bathing sparkling with pearly rosy, golden reflection towards the end of his life .
Renoir was born at Limoges but came to Paris with his family when he was still very young, and in 1854 went into a porcelain factory as a china decorator. He very soon gave this up and began painting fans in the eightieth century tradition to earn a living , and also painted decorative blinds. In 1862 he put his name down both for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and for Gleyre’s studio simultaneously, and there met Bazille, Monet and Sisley. Not longer after, when he was working, as did so many of his contemporaries in the forest of Fontainebleau, he made the acquaintance of Diaz who advised hem , even before Manet did, to give up dark colours and use a lighter palette. Renoir exhibited at The Salon fairly regularly, between 1864 and 1870, in spite of some refusals. The artists who chiefly influenced him  at that time were Diaz, Delacroix and especially Courbet. Among his works of this still or less realist period the following may be mentioned: The Inn of Mere Anthony (1866), Diana the huntress (refused at the 1867 Salon), Lise with a sunshade (1868 Salon) and Sisley and his wife (1868).
After 1870 war and up to c. 1883 Renoir become increasingly friendly with Monet and began to adopt the Impressionists technique, stippling and clear bright colours, as well as painting in the open.   He gave up “earthy” colours and shades of brown, but unlike most of the impressionists),  still uses the odd touch of black. During this period , there were scenes painted in Paris such as : Le Pont-Neuf (1872) and Les Grands Boulevards (1875), then landscapes of Argenteuil painted with Claude Monet, like The Seine at Argenteuil (1873-1874), and another beautiful paintings of the country near Paris: Path in the tall grass (c. 1874-1878). In spite of the success of these pictures , neither the public nor the critics really recognised Renoir as being a landscape painter.
The most important of Renoir’s single or group portraits are: M. Chocquet (1876), Girl with a straw , Woman reading (c. 1875-1877), Mme Georges Charpentier (1877),wife of the publisher , Mme Charpentier and her children c. (1878), and full length Portrait of the actress Jeanne Samary (in the 1879 Salon).
Among Renoir’s nudes , one of his first and most important, and one which shocked people very much when shown at the second exhibition at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in 1876, was the torso of a Woman In the Sun , streaming with water and bright light, and  full of life and happiness (c. 1875-1876) .
During the summers of 1879 and 1880, Renoir was working by the Seine at Chatou and Groissy (Boatmen at Chatou, 1879). Renoir become friendly with a diplomat, Paul Berard , who invited him to stay in Normandy at his country house Wargemont; Renoir paid him several visits (Rose bushes at Wargemont). He also spent several holidays at Berneval. From 1880 onwards he staid with Mere Fournaise at Croissy, near Bougival and painted a picture of her outdoor restaurant, calling it Le Dejeuner des Canotiers (1880); The boating party. He exhibited it the seventh Impressionists exhibition where it was much admired. He also went to Italy in the autumn of 1881 when he painted in Venice and studied in several museums, especially in Florence and Rome. On his return to France Renoir worked with Cezanne at l’Estaque near Marseilles; the landscapes he painted at that time were strongly Impressionist in character, with particularly loud colouring. In 1883 he staid in Guernsey. Between 1883 and 1890, roughly, his style underwent a very great change. This period  has been called “Ingresque” or “sour”. Shapes were very sharply and clearly defined. Bright sparkling colour gave way to deliberately subdued tones, ochre and “earth” colours, often clashing or “sour”. Renoir’s technique became dry and smooth. His painting the Umbrellas (1883) marks the transition  between the Impressionism he had relinquished and the begging for the search for the new stile. Renoir art’s  continued to develop after these years of study and experiment. The discipline he had practised in going back to drawing , and his deliberately restricted range of colouring,  led him to a more flexible technique , with form and outline much mire emphasised than they had been during his Impressionists phase. His colours became delicately shades and blinded with pearly overtones, so that this period from about 1890 to 1897 , it sometimes known as his “pearly” period. From 1897 , he often went to Essoyes and until about 1900 painted landscapes, still-lifes and a good many child portraits, among several of his second son Jean, whom he often painted sitting on his knees of their maid Gabrielle.
Renoir has been suffering from bad rheumatism, and it was getting worse, he moved to Cagnes in South of France, where he spent the rest of his life in his villa “Les Collets”.  There is a kind of luxuriant pantheistic  quality about of the works of this period, from 1903 to 1919, and a rich sensuality in his painting. The predominating colours are red, pink, and orange, and various influences, sometimes conflicting, seem to converge in his work. The Judgement of Paris (1908) is one of the most typical examples.

Based on Phaidon encyclopedia of Impressionism, Maurice Serullaz, Phaidon, 1978


Index of pictures