French Impressionist Painter & Sculptor
1841 - 1919
Without him I would have given up.
On Color and Art
On the whole, the modern palette is the same as the one used by the artists of Pompeii... I mean it has not been enriched. The ancients used earths, ochres, and ivory-black - you can do anything with that palette.
The advantage of growing old is that you become aware of your mistakes more quickly.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a French artist who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. As a celebrator of beauty, and especially feminine sensuality, it has been said that "Renoir is the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau".
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France, and the child of a working class family. As a boy, he worked in a porcelain factory where his drawing talents led to him being chosen to paint designs on fine china. He also painted hangings for overseas missionaries and decorations on fans before he enrolled in art school. 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 1860's, he did not have enough money to buy paint. Although Renoir first started exhibiting paintings at the Paris Salon in 1864, recognition did not come for another ten years, due, in part, to the turmoil of the Franco-Prussian War.
During the Paris Commune in 1871, while he painted on the banks of the Seine River, some members of a commune group thought he was a spy, and were about to throw him into the river when a commune leader, Raoul Rigault, recognized Renoir as the man who had protected him on an earlier occasion.
In 1874, a ten-year friendship with Jules Le Coeur and his family ended, and Renoir lost not only the valuable support gained by the association, but 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.
In 1881, he traveled to Algeria, a country he associated with Eugène Delacroix, then to Madrid, in Spain, to see the work of Diego Velázquez. Following that he traveled to Italy to see Titian's masterpieces in Florence, and the paintings of Raphael in Rome. On January 15, 1882 Renoir met the composer Richard Wagner at his home in Palermo, Sicily. Renoir painted Wagner's portrait in just thirty-five minutes. In the same year, Renoir convalesced for six weeks in Algeria after contracting pneumonia, which would cause permanent damage to his respiratory system.
The Swing has many points in common with The Ball at the Moulin de la Galette. The two pictures were painted in parallel in the summer of 1876. The models in The Swing, Edmond, Auguste Renoir's brother, the painter Robert Goeneutte and Jeanne, a young woman from Montmartre, figure among the dancers in The Ball. The same carefree atmosphere infuses both pictures. As in The Ball, Renoir is particularly trying to catch the effects of sunlight dappled by the foliage. The quivering light is rendered by the patches of pale color, particularly on the clothing and the ground. This particularly annoyed the critics when the painting was shown at the Impressionist exhibition of 1877. The Swing nonetheless found a buyer - Gustave Caillebotte, who also bought The Ball at the Moulin de la Galette.
The girl in the striped dress in the middle foreground (as charming of any of Watteau's court ladies) was said to be Estelle, the sister of Renoir's model, Jeanne. Another of Renoir's models, Margot, is seen to the left dancing with the Cuban painter, Cardenas. At the foreground table at the right are the artist's friends, Frank Lamy, Norbert Goeneutte and Georges Rivière who in the short-lived publication L'Impressionniste extolled the 'Moulin de la Galette' as a page of history, a precious monument of Parisian life depicted with rigorous exactness. Nobody before him had thought of capturing some aspect of daily life in a canvas of such large dimensions.
Renoir painted two other versions of the subject, a small sketch now in the Ordrupgard Museum, near Copenhagen and a painting smaller than the Louvre version in the John Hay Whitney collection. It is a matter of some doubt whether the latter or the Louvre version was painted on the spot. Rivière refers to a large canvas being transported to the scene though it would seem obvious that so complete a work as the picture in the Louvre would in any case have been finished in the studio.
In 1883, he spent the summer in Guernsey, creating fifteen paintings in little over a month. Most of these feature Moulin Huet, a bay in Saint Martin's, Guernsey. Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel, and it has a varied landscape which includes beaches, cliffs, bays, forests, and mountains. These paintings were the subject of a set of commemorative postage stamps, issued by the Bailiwick of Guernsey in 1983.
While living and working in Montmartre, Renoir employed as a model Suzanne Valadon, who posed for him (The Bathers, 1885-7; Dance at Bougival, 1883) and many of his fellow painters while studying their techniques; eventually she became one of the leading painters of the day.
Encouraged by Degas, Valadon became a good painter herself, but she would stand in the shadows of her strange but talented son Maurice Utrillo.
Her first exhibitions in the early nineties consisted mainly of portraits, among them that of her lover Erik Satie. Their intense affair lasted from January to June 1893 and this seems to have been Satie's only love affair. In 1894 she was the first woman to be admitted to the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
Her marriage to the exchange broker Paul Mousis in 1896 failed and she left him in 1909 for the young painter Andre Utter. He was twenty years her junior, but she married him in 1914.
Valadon turned to painting landscapes, still lifes and female nudes that were naked in an unashamed way that was shocking at this time. When she died Georges Braque, Andre Derain and Pablo Picasso, attended her funeral at the Cimetiere parisien, St.-Ouen (Paris).
Her work can be found at the Centre Pompidou, Paris and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
In 1887, a year when Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee, and upon the request of the queen's associate, Phillip Richbourg, he donated several paintings to the "French Impressionist Paintings" catalog as a token of his loyalty.
In 1890 he married Aline Victorine Charigot, who, along with a number of the artist's friends, had already served as a model for Les Déjeuner des canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881), and with whom he had 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.
Around 1892, Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis. In 1907, he moved to the warmer climate of "Les Collettes," a farm at Cagnes-sur-Mer, close to the Mediterranean coast. Renoir painted during the last twenty years of his life, even when arthritis severely limited his movement, and he was wheelchair-bound. He developed progressive deformities in his hands and ankylosis of his right shoulder, requiring him to adapt his painting technique. In the advanced stages of his arthritis, he painted by having a brush strapped to his paralyzed fingers.
During this period he created sculptures by directing an assistant who worked the clay. Renoir also used a moving canvas, or picture roll, to facilitate painting large works with his limited joint mobility.
In 1919, Renoir visited the Louvre to see his paintings hanging with the old masters. He died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, on December 3.
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. As well, Renoir admired Edgar Degas' sense of movement. Another painter Renoir greatly admired was the 18th century master François 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 still a 'student' piece, already Renoir's heightened personal response to female sensuality is present. The model was Lise Tréhot, then the artist's mistress and inspiration for a number of paintings.
In the late 1860's, through the practice of painting light and water en plein air (in the open air), he and his friend Claude Monet discovered that the color of shadows is not brown or black, but the reflected color of the objects surrounding them. Several pairs of paintings exist in which Renoir and Monet, working side-by-side, depicted the same scenes (La Grenouillere, 1869).
One of the best known Impressionist works is Renoir's 1876 Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Le Bal au 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 1880's, however, he had broken with the movement to apply a more disciplined, formal technique to portraits and figure paintings, particularly of women, such as The Bathers, which was created during 1884-87. 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. This is sometimes called his "Ingres Period", as he concentrated on his drawing and emphasized the outlines of figures.
The work was painted at Chatou, which Renoir considered "the most pleasant of all Paris suburbs". Renoir and the friends whom he recorded in The Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880, Phillips Collection, Washington), in which the same stretch of river with its wooden banks serves as a background, still perceived Chatou as an ideal leisure spot. The Two Sisters was painted on the same terrace of the Maison Fournaise as The Luncheon. It is believed that Renoir began The Two Sisters in April 1881 when he wrote to the critic Théodore Duret, "I am struggling with trees in colour, with portraits of women and children, and besides that I do not want to see anything…"
The year before on the same terrace Renoir had painted another girl, touchingly delicate, but lacking the charm of the new model (Girl on a Balcony, Cushing collection). This time he conceived a much more complicated composition and placed his subjects directly by the railing, obtaining the best structural interconnection of all elements. Renoir even included a clumsy tub of flowers, both for the sake of contrast and for greater compositional stability.
The Impressionists were painters of light and 'Light' plays an exceptionally important role in the painting, glistening on the water, playing in the agglomerations of flowers and foliage behind the terrace, flashing out in the bud on the breast of the older girl and the chaplet of the younger and finally freezing in sparks in the eyes of both these charming heroines. The older girl's glowing scarlet hat, the resonance of color that is expressively emphasized by the fresh green of the background, from the first rivets any gaze to the young face, its pure oval, tender skin, the beautiful eyes of a dreamer.
The Two Sisters was first presented to the public at the seventh Impressionist exhibition in the spring of 1882, together with such Renoir masterpieces as the Hermitage's Girl with a Fan, Girl with a Cat and A Box in the Opera (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown) and The Luncheon of the Boating Party.
It is not known who posed for the younger "sister", but thirty years ago Francois Daulte, an expert on Renoir's work, established that the older girl was Jeanne Darlot (1863-1914). She was eighteen at the time. Soon she joined the Theatre Gymnase where she acted supporting roles in comedies. The attractive actress quite often had her photograph in the papers. A decade later Jeanne Darlot had her debut at the Comedie Francaise, but soon after she quit the stage. Evidently her theatrical career was not shaping the way she wanted. She did not marry either, becoming the kept mistress of a chocolate manufacturer, and later of an influential senator.
It is a special quality of the heroines of Renoir's paintings that they both resemble and do not resemble the models. Comparing photographs with the portraits it is obvious that in paintings they are immeasurably more attractive. Renoir's pictures are first and foremost paintings, and only then the motif or the personage. And his painting always contains a lofty image, yet one deliberately devoid of bombast, so that the artist could permit himself both humor and the play of allusions. Without remembering that, it is impossible to understand the detail in the bottom left corner of the composition that might at first glance be taken for flowers. There is little logical justification for such a detail, since the painting is set not in an interior, but in the open air. It has been suggested that the balls of wool appeared as Renoir's response to the insinuation of a critic who compared his painting to knitting. One of his masterpieces was described as "a weak sketch seemingly executed in wool of different colors". On the other hand, Degas wittily recalled the balls of wool. "Renoir," he said, "can do whatever he likes" and added, thinking of the wholly non-programmatic nature of his colleague's art, "You've seen a cat playing with balls of different colored wool?"
After 1890, however, he changed direction again, returning to the use of thinly brushed color which dissolved outlines as in his earlier work. From this period onward he concentrated especially on monumental nudes and domestic scenes, fine examples of which are Girls at the Piano, 1892, and Grandes Baigneuses, 1918-19. The latter painting is the most typical and successful of Renoir's late, abundantly fleshed nudes.
A prolific artist, he made 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.
Acknowledging modern criticism of Renoir's sensuality, Lawrence Gowing wrote:
"Is there another respected modern painter whose work is so full of charming people and attractive sentiment? Yet what lingers is not cloying sweetness but a freshness that is not entirely explicable...One feels the surface of his paint itself as living skin: Renoir's aesthetic was wholly physical and sensuous, and it was unclouded...These interactions of real people fulfilling natural drives with well-adjusted enjoyment remain the popular masterpieces of modern art (as it used to be called), and the fact that they are not fraught and tragic, without the slightest social unrest in view, or even much sign of the spacial and communal disjunction which some persist in seeking, is far from removing their interests."
Albert Aurier, an art critic and early essayist on the impressionists, wrote in 1892:
"With such ideas, with such a vision of the world and of femininity, one might have feared that Renoir would create a work which was merely pretty and merely superficial. Superficial it was not; in fact it was profound, for if, indeed, the artist has almost completely done away with the intellectuality of his models in his paintings, he has, in compensation, been prodigal with his own. As to the pretty, it is undeniable in his work, but how different from the intolerable prettiness of fashionable painters."
The deep blue of the dress, the bright red of the bow and the girl's lips, and the cool greens of the lush garden behind her are all given a prismatic brilliance by Renoir's brushwork. Rather than blend his colors, Renoir has applied them in individual touches that dissolve edges and seem to shimmer with light. Impressionism sought to capture the effect of light on the senses, communicating a visual signal with each stroke of the brush.
Thus, this famous painting, although thought of as one of Renoir's happiest works, is really another depiction of his social uneasiness. Only in Aline, who enjoys the gaze of her dog Bob, can he find comfort.
Among the energetic crowd crossing the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, one man appears twice. Sporting a straw boater and carrying the boulevardier's cane, this is Renoir's brother Edmond, dispatched by the artist to delay people on the street. Edmond later explained that while passersby paused to answer his idle questions, Renoir was able to capture their appearance from his window above a nearby Right Bank cafe.
In Renoir's portrait, Sisley sits casually astride a bamboo chair, resting his head on his left hand, his eyes lowered and gently averted. The shallow, dark room is pierced only by a window at the upper right. Although the composition's dominant tonality is blue, its mood is not melancholy; rather, Sisley appears thoughtful and serene, something of a dreamer. No clues, such as brushes or a palette, hint at his vocation, so perhaps Renoir intended to refer to his subject's identity as an artist more indirectly, through his romantic characterization.
This was one of six portraits that Renoir sent to the third Impressionist exhibition, held in 1877. The work can be seen as a document of the two men's shared aim, at this point in their careers, to achieve artistic success through avant-garde rather than official means, and of Renoir's specific aspiration to become known as a portrait painter. More importantly, however, its affectionate quality makes it a representation of friendship.
The setting is richly appointed, with a patterned carpet, fabric-covered walls, a potted plant, and luxurious curtains. A pretty, young woman sits before a piano, her luminous, pink hands caressing the keyboard. Her performance seems effortless, like her beauty, as if the ravishing visual harmony she embodies extends naturally into the realm of sound. Her dress is a confection of white, diaphanous fabric over a bluish under dress, offset by a winding, dark band; it takes on, through the magic of Renoir's brush, a life of its own, its brilliant play of chromatic harmonies and counterpoint of sinuous and cascading rhythms suggesting the notes produced by the instrument. Designed to conceal, the garment also reveals, as we see from the glints of pink flesh picked out on the musician's shoulder and arm.
Woman at the Piano is not a portrait of an individual, nor a study of a social type. It is a portrait of ideal womanhood, of a goddess transported from the heavens to a modern drawing room uncomplicated by the contingencies of the real world. The artist/performer is Renoir, the palette is his keyboard, and the woman at the piano is wholly his creation.
Unlike the images of seduction created by his predecessors, Renoir's is a fleeting moment caught by chance--middle-class Parisians immersed in nature, possibly a local park, not set before a studio backdrop. The dappled light filtering through the foliage would become a trademark of Renoir's finest Impressionist works of the 1870's and 1880's. He used a thin, oily paint mix, his glazes here floating into each other to create depth.
The Cezanne-like treatment of the tree at the back also suggests it was painted after Renoir stayed with him at L'Estaque in 1882. The children and the lady with them are more indicative of the style of the 'seventies than the rest of the picture which may well have passed through stages of repainting over a period. The charm of the whole is nevertheless able to overcome the feeling of slight discrepancy that may result from close examination.
Durand-Ruel bought the picture from Renoir in 1892 and sold it to Sir Hugh Lane, in whose bequest it came to the Tate Gallery in 1917. It was transferred to the National Gallery in 1935.
In Nini in the Garden, which should be dated around 1875-76, Renoir's handling is energized, nervous, and experimental. He makes no attempt to unify the paint surface of his canvas: ridges of rich impasto sit alongside areas of barely covered ground. His color is nonetheless applied in dabs and strokes of varying touch, appropriate to the forms they describe. Thus, the leafy bushes in the background are a mosaic of greens, browns, and ochers; the sky in the upper left a series of blue strokes placed over the greens--the most obvious of Renoir's borrowings from Monet. Nini herself is painted more emphatically, the violet blue of her hat and underskirt the densest blocks of color in the composition. Nini's costume is very similar to, if not identical to, the one she wears in Departure from the Conservatory. Comparison helps establish the design of Nini's ensemble as it appears in Nini in the Garden: dark tunic over a light pinafore dress, with dark underskirt, this last element just visible through the grass and plants.
It is clear, however, that costume is of little concern to Renoir here. His chief interest is to record the sunlight as it filters through bushes and trees onto the diminutive and fashionably dressed Parisienne. He had already investigated these effects on the nude; Nini in the Garden marks an early stage in such treatment of the dressed figure. Somewhat tentatively, Renoir painted the reflections of foliage on Nini's face and the larger shadows on her dress. Her golden brown tresses are overwhelmed by the greens and browns of the background foliage; the forms of her dress dissolve in the dappled light and shadow.
Those elements of Renoir's luminist vocabulary that would cause such outrage in 1877--his colored shadows, the violet tonality of his outdoor scenes--are present in this early example: for example, the line of chartreuse that defines Nini's cheek and chin as well as the mauve patches of shadow on her dress. Although his plein-air painting still owed much to Monet, ... in the paintings he made in the garden of the rue Cortot, Renoir developed what Theodore Duret would consider his most striking contribution to Impressionism: depicting the human figure in the endlessly changing, mobile light of nature. Renoir's exploration of light dancing over the human figure would achieve full expression in 'The Swing and Moulin de la Galette'. In Nini in the Garden such effects are rendered a little hesitantly, but with the daring of experiment...
Source: Art Renewal Center
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