Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was a famous French artist who was one of the major contributors to the Impressionist movement. The main focus of his art was to celebrate beauty in all its appearances, particularly as it was revealed in the female form. His life intersected with numerous other famous painters of the period, including Manet and particularly Monet. By the end of his life, he had created thousands of paintings, introduced a new style of painting, and died a famous man.
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Renoir was born in Limoges, France as the son of a regular working-class family. This meant he needed to go to work at a young age to help support the group. One of his early jobs was working in a porcelain factory where his eye for fine detail and his already well-developed sense of line and space-enabled him to secure a position painting designs on the fine china (Renoir, 1962). This experience quickly had him branching out into creating wall hangings and fans for overseas missionaries and encouraged him to pursue an art career.
By 1862, he was studying art professionally under the guiding hand of Charles Gleyre in Paris and became acquainted with other young painters such as Claude Monet (Vollard, 1925). Working as a truly poor artist, he occasionally had to go without paint as he struggled to make a name for himself during the following decade.
Renoir’s earlier works are strong examples of colorism and realism. These works are influenced strongly by the works of Delacroix, Corot, Courbet, and Manet. An example of this early work is Diana (1867). In this painting, a nude woman sits on some mossy rocks with a hide of some kind covering her vaginal area. She leans on a tall bow and is looking down upon the slain carcass of a deer with its head twisted around backward and blood coming from its head region. The painting represents the traditional in that it represents the ancient Roman goddess of the hunt, but there are hints that this symbolism was more of an afterthought. Its importance lies in how it reveals the artist’s earlier work before launching into his Impressionist ideals.
The National Gallery of Art says, “The picture’s style shows the influence of realist painter Gustave Courbet in the particular attention given to the blood coming from the animal’s mouth and the mossy surfaces of the rocks. This is one of the few times Renoir used a palette knife to apply his pigments – a favorite technique of Courbet” (2009). The piece also represents the degree to which Renoir was still influenced by his student classes as the woman, his girlfriend at the time, is posed in classic art class stance.
In the later years of the 1860s, Renoir and his friend Monet began working together while painting outdoors. The two artists were working to understand more about light and water and thus were often seen in Montemarte, a popular place for artists at the time and where Renoir was able to acquire free lodgings at the home of his friend Jules Le Coeur (Wadley, 1989). While working together in this way, the artists discovered that shadows were comprised of the reflected color of the objects that caused them.
This breakthrough discovery was what gave birth to the Impressionist style. There are still many paintings in existence that demonstrate the pair’s working together as they depict the same scenes. An example of this kind of double effect can be found by comparing Renoir’s La Grenouillere (1869) with Monet’s painting of the same title and date. Both paintings illustrate a scene of a group of society people floating in a boat with swimmers, other boats, and the corner of a covered dock area.
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While both paintings are explorations into how the light and shadows worked on the water, Renoir’s is infused from within by a vibrant green feeling that gives the work-life and energy. This type of painting began his Impressionist work which was well received. Six of his paintings were selected to hang in the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874 and two of his paintings were displayed in London (Wadley, 1989). With this bit of success, Renoir was able to begin traveling a bit to broaden his eye.
The next turning point in Renoir’s work came in 1874 when he had a falling out with his close friend Jules Le Coeur and Renoir was forced to discover new subjects for his work (Wadley, 1989). His paintings began to focus more on women and the various locations that he traveled to. In the years from 1881 to 1890, the artist spent a great deal of his time traveling, expanding his art and his eye as well as introducing Impressionism to the rest of the world.
He settled down when he married Aline Victorine Chariot in 1890 and had three children with her (Wadley, 1989). Within two years, though, he was beginning to suffer the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and was forced to move to a warmer climate. He continued to paint until the end of his life even when it meant having an assistant place the brush in his hand. In the last year of his life, he was able to visit the Louvre and see his paintings hanging with the work of the ancient masters. He died on December 3, 1919, while staying in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alps-Cote d’Azur (Wadley, 1989).
National Gallery of Art. Auguste Renoir Diana. Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2009. Web.
Renoir, Jean. Renoir, My Father. New York: Collins, 1962.
Vollard, Ambroise. Renoir, An Intimate Record. New York: Knopf, 1925.
Wadley, Nicholas. Renoir: A Retrospective. New York: Park Lane, 1989.