Pierre-Auguste Renoir cir. 1910
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, self-portrait cir. 1875
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France, the child of a working-class family. As a boy, he worked in a porcelain factory where his drawing talents led to his being chosen to paint designs on fine china. Before he enrolled in art school, he also painted hangings for overseas missionaries and decorations on fans. During those early years, he often visited the Louvre to study the French master painters.
In 1862, he began studying art under Charles Gleyre in Paris. There he met Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, and Claude Monet. At times, during the 1860s, he did not have enough money to buy paint. Renoir had his first success at the Salon of 1868 with his painting Lise with a Parasol (1867), which depicted Lise Tréhot, his lover at the time.
Although Renoir first started exhibiting paintings at the Paris Salon in 1864,recognition was slow in coming, partly as a result of the turmoil of the Franco-Prussian War.
During the Paris Commune in 1871, while Renoir painted on the banks of the Seine River, some Communards thought he was a spy and were about to throw him into the river, when a leader of the Commune, Raoul Rigault, recognized Renoir as the man who had protected him on an earlier occasion.
In 1874, a ten-year friendship with Jules Le Cœur and his family ended, and Renoir lost not only the valuable support gained by the association, but also a generous welcome to stay on their property near Fontainebleau and its scenic forest. This loss of a favorite painting location resulted in a distinct change of subjects.
Renoir's paintings are notable for their vibrant light and saturated color, most often focusing on people in intimate and candid compositions. The female nude was one of his primary subjects. In characteristic Impressionist style, Renoir suggested the details of a scene through freely brushed touches of color, so that his figures softly fuse with one another and their surroundings.
His initial paintings show the influence of the colorism of Eugène Delacroix and the luminosity of Camille Corot. He also admired the realism of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, and his early work resembles theirs in his use of black as a color. Renoir admired Edgar Degas' sense of movement. Another painter Renoir greatly admired was the 18th-century masterFrançois Boucher.
A fine example of Renoir's early work and evidence of the influence of Courbet's realism, is Diana, 1867. Ostensibly a mythological subject, the painting is a naturalistic studio work; the figure carefully observed, solidly modeled and superimposed upon a contrived landscape. If the work is a "student" piece, Renoir's heightened personal response to female sensuality is present. The model was Lise Tréhot, the artist's mistress at that time, and inspiration for a number of paintings.
In the late 1860s, through the practice of painting light and water en plein air (outdoors), he and his friend Claude Monetdiscovered that the color of shadows is not brown or black, but the reflected color of the objects surrounding them, an effect known today as diffuse reflection. Several pairs of paintings exist in which Renoir and Monet worked side-by-side, depicting the same scenes (La Grenouillère, 1869).
One of the best known Impressionist works is Renoir's 1876 Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de la Galette). The painting depicts an open-air scene, crowded with people at a popular dance garden on the Butte Montmartre close to where he lived. The works of his early maturity were typically Impressionist snapshots of real life, full of sparkling color and light. By the mid-1880s, however, he had broken with the movement to apply a more disciplined formal technique to portraits and figure paintings, particularly of women.
It was a trip to Italy in 1881, when he saw works by Raphael and other Renaissance masters, that convinced him that he was on the wrong path, and for the next several years he painted in a more severe style in an attempt to return to classicism. Concentrating on his drawing and emphasizing the outlines of figures, he painted works such as The Large Bathers (1884–87; Philadelphia Museum of Art) during what is sometimes called his "Ingresperiod".
After 1890 he changed direction again. To dissolve outlines, as in his earlier work, he returned to thinly brushed color. From this period onward he concentrated on monumental nudes and domestic scenes, fine examples of which are Girls at the Piano, 1892, and Grandes Baigneuses, 1887. The latter painting is the most typical and successful of Renoir's late, abundantly fleshed nudes.
A prolific artist, he created several thousand paintings. The warm sensuality of Renoir's style made his paintings some of the most well-known and frequently reproduced works in the history of art. The single largest collection of his works—181 paintings in all—is at the Barnes Foundation, in Philadelphia.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir cir. 1909