Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a French Impressionist painter born in Limoges, Haute-Vienne France. He was famous for his sensual-themed paintings of attractive women but beyond this, he a deep-thinking and complex artist that only his closest friends knew. He was one of the founding figures of Impressionism although be stopped submitting his works to the Societe Anonyme des Artistes, Sculpteurs, Graveurs after 1877.
Pierre Renoir was younger than some of the most notable Impressionist artists such as E. Manet, Claude Monet, Bazille, Sisley, Pissarro, and Degas. He began to establish his reputation from 1880’s until the early 20th century where he seemed to go back to neoclassical art inspirations but painted his works on monumental sizes. He was an inspiration to Pablo Picasso and other avant-garde artists.
Renoir was originally a ceramic artist, which his son Claude Renoir would follow through later in his middle years. However, he dreamt for having a bigger career that would make him a professional artist. And thus, he started copying the original paintings on display at Louvre around 1860. He chose still-life objects, women and beautiful children as a subject.
Among his many nude paintings, the most popular is Nude in the Sun and The Large Bathers. These painting have been consistently reproduced throughout Europe, and art historians believe that they hold the record of being reproduced for most number of times. If people found Manet’s eccentric style of painting was repelling during his time, Renoir’s unique style was well-received.
In fact, some of his art critics stated that “Renoir is the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau”. Some of his other important works include Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876), Girls at the Piano (1892), Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881), and portraits of notable public figures.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born on February 25, 1841 in Limoges, France to a working-class family. At a young age, he was already working as a factory worker for a porcelain manufacturing company. He made designs for the porcelains, which provided him the necessary experience to hone his drawing skills. Aside from designing porcelains, he also had experience in decorating the fans and hangings of foreign missionaries.
In 1862, he entered the studio of the famous Charles Gleyre. There he befriended Frederic Bazille, Alfred Sisley and Claude Monet, all of whom he had spent time painting together outside of the studio. They often go to Fontainebleau forest to paint the sceneries there although Renoir did not become fully dedicated to landscape painting. He favored nude and portrait painting which he excelled in anyway. It is said that his earliest influence was the works of realist Gustave Courbet, for his female nudes and simple palette.
However, since he did not come from a wealthy family, he has to provide for himself including his painting equipment. He struggled with having enough francs to buy the paint he wanted. Nevertheless, he was still able to paint magnificently that in 1864, the Salon accepted him paintings for exhibition of that same year. But the nationwide recognition did not come easy and fast as it took him a decade before he was widely recognized by his audience and critics.
In 1869, Monet and Renoir painted side-by-side at La Grenouillere. The suburb was known for its boating and bathing streams which served as Renoir’s main source of inspiration for most of his paintings at the time. The duo shared the same painting style; sketch-like due to the use of freer brush strokes and the palette was brighter than usual. It is was presumably their attempt to get an accurate depiction of the sun’s effect onto the earth, particularly as the sunlight goes through the trees and water.
Come early 1870’s, his attempt in making it to the Salon’s exhibition would fail simply because his works were rejected by the jury. This prompted him to join Claude Monet in founding a non-government art institution for the Impressionists. The group was sought to capture modern-day routines and life and it was just timely for Renoir because he would still be painting streets, individuals and city views before he focused on doing portraiture. His notable work during this period was the Dance at the Moulin de la Galette of 1876.
Towards the end of 1870’s, Renoir would develop a deeper interest in portrait painting. This has been driven by his desire to receive important commissions by wealthy patrons, to be able to have a better life. So he wanted to attract patrons but this has also surfaced some avant-garde sensibilities in him. He acquired portrait commissions by Madame Georges Charpentier and Eugene Murer.
When it comes to his portrait style, he was careful and lighthearted. He painted the subjects with sheer charm and affection especially because he wanted to capture the sensibilities there are in a woman. Of all the portraits he made, it was the painting of Marguerite Charpentier with her off-springs that was rendered most significant. The family portrait shows a combination of informality and intimacy executed with traditional composition style similar to an old master.
Needless to say, focusing on painting portraits served him well financially. His success continued on when the Charpentier portrait was accepted by the Salon in 1879, where he would met another high profile patron, Paul Berard. The wealthy banker contracted Renoir to paint portraits of his whole family and was given the opportunity to visit Berard’s estate in Wargemont on a regular basis. The suburb would have also inspired him to paint seascapes, high-class still-life objects and other subjects he had never painted before.
During the early 1780’s, Renoir experienced a more comfortable life due to his successful commissions. He decided to evaluate the traditional rules of painting from composition, structure, and depth. Like Manet, he wanted to reinvent himself and this began to materialize when he painted the Luncheon of the Boating Party. In the painting, Renoir made clear of the figures’ movement, expression and intention and this is heightened by placing them at the right space and position.
His paintings at the time showed the rudiments of classical painting, going back as far as Pompeii to Raphael. The anatomical features of his characters were as though sculpted for its precise representation and structure. One example is the Reclining Nude. The female figure was painted with a porcelain-like skin and she stands out completely against the lush green background drawn impressionistically. The background was painted with loose brushstrokes to make a clear distinction of the detached relationship of the woman and her surroundings.
After experimenting with classical art, Renoir shifted his attention to coloristic traditions made famous by Rubens and Tiziano. He combined this with the natural sensual aesthetic of French art during the 18th century or the French Rococo period. This style is clearly illustrated in his Young Girl Bathing. The large female figure shows typical prim and proper look and the hair blends well into the bushy background. The eyes are drawn to demurely as if the figure shies away from the viewer of the painting.
Within this decade, Renoir was summoned by the government to paint exclusively for Musee du Luxembourg. He was assigned to paint five versions of Two Young Girls at the Piano which is reminiscent of the 18th century genre scenes that emerged in the country back then.
At the dawn of the new century, Renoir would have been too old yet he still continued painting and exploring other genres. He started learning sculpture at old age and hired an assistant for it. He contracted Richard Guino to execute models based on his suggested designs. While working on a sculptural piece, Renoir painted portraits during his spare time. Tilla Durieux is presumably the most important painting he’s ever executed at the time.
Through Tilla Durieux, he was able to demonstrate what he learned from Titian’s pyramidal composition technique combined with luxurious adornments such as accessories and clothing. Apparently, Renoir had such unwavering passion for Italian Renaissance. However, his environment while living in South of France affected his palette choices and canvas sizes that made his Renaissance-inspired paintings very distinct. He would still derive naturalistic inspiration from his present situation; hence, his style was still considered Impressionistic overall.
Unfortunately, due to old age, Renoir’s health was in constant decline and the change in environment affected his Impressionistic sensibilities as well. Living close to the Mediterranean coast Renoir grew fond of arcadian classics. His charming, amplitude and curvy female nudes changed into something “enormously fat red women with very small heads” as how Mary Cassatt described it. On the contrary, this kind of style was greatly adored by cubist Pablo Picasso, Aristide Mailol, and Henri Matisse.
Nevertheless, Renoir enjoyed the fame and success he earned deservingly so during the 20th century. He was dubbed as one of the greatest French painters of the modern times. Few months before his death on 1919, he visited Louvre Museum to see his works. Renior died on December 3, 1919 at the age of 78 in his home at Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur.