February 25, 1841 - December 3, 1919
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one of the co-founders of
Impressionism. He was so passionate about painting that he even
continued when he was old and suffering from severe arthritis.
Renoir then painted with the brush tied to his wrists.
the 1870s a revolution erupted in French painting. Encouraged by
artists like Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, a number of
young painters began to seek alternatives to the traditions of
Western painting that had prevailed since the beginning of the
Renaissance. These artists went directly to nature for their
inspiration and into the actual society of which they were a
part. As a result, their works revealed a look of freshness and
immediacy that in many ways departed from the look of Old Master
painting. The new art, for instance, displayed vibrant light and
color instead of the somber browns and blacks that had dominated
previous painting. These qualities, among others, signaled the
beginning of modern art.
Pierre Auguste Renoir was a central figure of this development,
particularly in its impressionist phase. Like the other
impressionists, he struggled through periods of public ridicule
during his early career. But as the new style gradually became
accepted, during the 1880s and 1890s, Renoir began to enjoy
extensive patronage and international recognition. The high
esteem accorded his art at that time has generally continued
into the present day.
Renoir was born in Limoges on Feb. 25, 1841. Shortly afterward,
his family moved to Paris. Because he showed a remarkable talent
for drawing, Renoir became an apprentice in a porcelain factory,
where he painted plates. Later, after the factory had gone out
of business, he worked for his older brother, decorating fans.
Throughout these early years Renoir made frequent visits to the
Louvre, where he studied the art of earlier French masters,
particularly those of the 18th century - Antoine Watteau,
François Boucher, and Jean Honoré Fragonard. His deep respect
for these artists informed his own painting throughout his
In 1862 Renoir decided to study painting seriously and entered
the Atelier Gleyre, where he met Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley,
and Jean Frédéric Bazille. During the next 6 years Renoir's art
showed the influence of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, the
two most innovative painters of the 1850s and 1860s. Courbet's
influence is especially evident in the bold palette-knife
technique of Diane Chasseresse (1867), while Manet's can be seen
in the flat tones of Alfred Sisley and His Wife (1868). Still,
both paintings reveal a sense of intimacy that is characteristic
of Renoir's personal style.
The 1860s were difficult years for Renoir. At times he was too
poor to buy paints or canvas, and the Salons of 1866 and 1867
rejected his works. The following year the Salon accepted his
painting Lise. He continued to develop his work and to study the
paintings of his contemporaries - not only Courbet and Manet,
but Camille Corot and Euge‧ne Delacroix as well. Renoir's
indebtedness to Delacroix is apparent in the lush painterliness
of the Odalisque (1870).
Renoir and Impressionism
In 1869 Renoir and Monet worked together at La Grenouille‧re, a
bathing spot on the Seine. Both artists became obsessed with
painting light and water. According to Phoebe Pool (1967), this
was a decisive moment in the development of impressionism, for
"It was there that Renoir and Monet made their discovery that
shadows are not brown or black but are coloured by their
surroundings, and that the 'local colour' of an object is
modified by the light in which it is seen, by reflections from
other objects and by contrast with juxtaposed colours."
The styles of Renoir and Monet were virtually identical at this
time, an indication of the dedication with which they pursued
and shared their new discoveries. During the 1870s they still
occasionally worked together, although their styles generally
developed in more personal directions.
In 1874 Renoir participated in the first impressionist
exhibition. His works included the Opera Box (1874), a painting
which shows the artist's penchant for rich and freely handled
figurative expression. Of all the impressionists, Renoir most
consistently and thoroughly adapted the new style - in its
inspiration, essentially a landscape style - to the great
tradition of figure painting.
Although the impressionist exhibitions were the targets of much
public ridicule during the 1870s, Renoir's patronage gradually
increased during the decade. He became a friend of Caillebotte,
one of the first patrons of the impressionists, and he was also
backed by the art dealer Durand-Ruel and by collectors like
Victor Choquet, the Charpentiers, and the Daidets. The artist's
connection with these individuals is documented by a number of
handsome portraits, for instance, Madame Charpentier and Her
In the 1870s Renoir also produced some of his most celebrated
impressionist genre scenes, including the Swing and the Moulin
de la Galette (both 1876). These works embody his most basic
attitudes about art and life. They show men and women together,
openly and casually enjoying a society diffused with warm,
radiant sunlight. Figures blend softly into one another and into
their surrounding space. Such worlds are pleasurable, sensuous,
and generously endowed with human feeling.
Renoir's "Dry" Period
During the 1880s Renoir gradually separated himself from the
impressionists, largely because he became dissatisfied with the
direction the new style was taking in his own hands. In
paintings like the Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-1881), he
felt that his style was becoming too loose, that forms were
losing their distinctiveness and sense of mass. As a result, he
looked to the past for a fresh inspiration. In 1881 he travelled
to Italy and was particularly impressed by the art of Raphael.
During the next 6 years Renoir's paintings became increasingly
dry: he began to draw in a tight, classical manner, carefully
outlining his figures in an effort to give them plastic clarity.
The works from this period, such as the Umbrellas (1883) and the
Grandes baigneuses (1884-1887), are generally considered the
least successful of Renoir's mature expressions. Their
classicizing effort seems self-conscious, a contradiction to the
warm sensuality that came naturally to him.
By the end of the 1880s Renoir had passed through his dry
period. His late work is truly extraordinary: a glorious
outpouring of monumental nude figures, beautiful young girls,
and lush landscapes. Examples of this style include the Music
Lesson (1891), Young Girl Reading (1892), and Sleeping Bather
(1897). In many ways, the generosity of feeling in these
paintings expands upon the achievements of his great work in the
Renoir's health declined severely in his later years. In 1903 he
suffered his first attack of rheumatoid arthritis and settled
for the winter at Cagnes-sur-Mer. By this time he faced no
financial problems, but the arthritis made painting painful and
often impossible. Nevertheless, he continued to work, at times
with a brush tied to his crippled hand. Renoir died at
Cagnes-sur-Mer on Dec. 3, 1919, but his death was preceded by an
experience of supreme triumph: the state had purchased his
portrait Madame Georges Charpentier (1877), and he travelled to
Paris in August to see it hanging in the Louvre.
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 interest in painting led to him
painting designs on china. In 1862 he studied art in Paris,
where he met Alfred Sisley, Frederic Bazille and Claude Monet.
His initial paintings were influenced by the artistry of Eugene
Delacroix and his close friend Monet who helped Renoir found the
Impressionism movement. He would go on to become one of the
greatest painters of his time. Today his paintings are probably
the most popular, well-known, and frequently reproduced images
in the history of art.
- Pierrre-Auguste Renoir -
Although Renoir had his first exhibit of paintings in 1864 he
did not gain any real recognition for another ten years due to
the turmoil in Paris as a result of the Franco-Prussian War.
During the Paris Commune in 1871, Pierre-Auguste Renoir was
arrested as a government spy. His life was saved when he was
recognized by one of the Commune leaders, whom Renoir had
himself protected on another occasion. In the mid 1870s, the
first exhibition was held for the new impressionist painters and
Renoir gained his first great acclaim.
While living and working in Montmartre, he would have an affair
with one of his models, Suzanne Valadon who would become one of
the leading female artists of the day. He would later marry
Aline Victorine Charigot, with whom he would have three sons,
one of which, Jean Renoir, would become an important filmmaker.
After marriage, his work changed when he became very much family
oriented and was equally as interested in painting individual or
family portraits as he was in landscapes
One of the most famous impressionist works by any painter, is
his 1876 Le Bal au Moulin de la Galette (Dance at Le Moulin de
la Galette), an open-air scene, jammed with people, of a popular
dance garden on the Butte Montmartre not far from where he had
been living. (See photo below.)
In 1881 he traveled to Algeria, a country he associated with
Eugene Delacroix, then to Madrid, Spain to see the work of Diego
Velazquez and then to Italy to see Titian's masterpieces in
Florence and the paintings of Raphael in Rome. On January 15,
1882 Renoir met composer Richard Wagner at his home in Palermo,
Sicily. Renoir painted Wagner's portait in just 35 minutes.
One of the most prolific artists ever, over a 60 year period,
Pierre-Auguste Renoir made several thousand paintings. Even
during the last 20 years of his life when he was severely
hampered by arthritis and wheelchair-bound. He moved to the
warmer climate of Cagnes-sur-Mer not far fromNice on the
Mediterranean Sea and continued to paint by using a brush
strapped to his arm. He even created sculptures, dictating to an
assistant who worked the clay.
In 1919, Renoir had the extraordinary experience of visting the
Louvre to see his paintings hanging with the old masters.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer,
Provence-Alpes-C te d'Azur, on December 3, 1919.
Renoir has had two paintings sell for more than $70 million US.
Auguste Renoir was one of the co-founders of Impressionism. He
was so passionate about painting that he even continued when he
was old and suffering from severe arthritis. Renoir then painted
with the brush tied to his wrists.
The Early Years
Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges in France. When he was four
years old, the family moved to Paris. The Renoirs lived near the
Louvre, which then was partly a royal palace and partly the
museum we know today. The Louvre was the first encounter of the
young Renoir with art.
At the age of only thirteen Pierre Auguste started an
apprenticeship at a workshop painting decorations on porcelain.
During these years Auguste Renoir learned a lot about colours
and drawing. He became a skilled and esteemed craftsman at the
porcelain factory. Unfortunately the company went bankrupt and
left the young Renoir rethinking about his future.
At the age of twenty, Renoir joined the classical painting
school of a Swiss artist in Paris. There he learned how to paint
in the style of the old masters. The art scene at that time was
rather stiff and dominated by what we would call today The
Establishment. Dark colors and photorealistic artwork was
dominant. The Salon, an annual exhibition event, exercised a
kind of factual censorship. Artwork that was refused by the
Salon had no chance to find a buyer on the market.
The Impressionist Revolution
Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Frederic Bazille and Auguste Pierre
Renoir began to revolt against the traditional art style. They
started painting outdoors, which itself was considered to be
The first Impressionist paintings were created in the forest of
Fontainebleau and at a nearby little lake. The four friends
wanted to catch the impression of the moment and to show the
effects of light. The Impressionists used quick brush strokes
and bright colours. In the eyes of their critics these paintings
looked unfinished and sloppily made.
It was clear that the Impressionist works would be refused by
the Salon. So the Impressionists established their own Salon des
Refuses, the show of the refused ones. This exhibition had no
judges. Every artist who paid a small fee, was allowed to show
his art works.
Renoir Goes His Own Way
Renoir enjoyed the Impressionist style and he liked to paint
outdoor scenes showing everyday people dancing and having a good
time. In these paintings Renoir mastered the display of light in
a way that makes these scenes so vivid and spontaneous. The
painting Bal au Moulin de la Galette stands for this period in
Renoir's artistic career and is one of best known Impressionist
But Renoir never gave up his roots as a traditional arts
craftsman and as an admirer of the old masters. In the early
1880s Renoir had the feeling of exhaustion and that he had done
everything he could do with Impressionist style. He went to
Italy and when he came back he changed his style to a more
classical one. He now paid attention to details and more
elaborate lines. Renoir used only five different colours on his
palette. And as a porcelain painter he had learned how to
combine complimentary colours. The painting Les Grandes
Baigneuses, to be seen in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is
typical for Renoir's classical period. Renoir should later say
to a friend that he would not create a painting of these
dimensions and such elaborate details a second time. The artist
had spent an enormous amount of time and energy on it.
When Renoir grew older, his style changed again. It become
softer and the outlines more sketchy. He used very strong
colours - often reds and oranges - and thick brush strokes. His
favourite subjects were young, buxom, nude girls. Stricken with
severe arthritis, he was hardly able to hold the brush any more.
So he had the brush tied to his wrists. The change in style that
lasted from about 1903 to the end of his life, was certainly
imposed by his disease.
Renoir died at the age of 79 in Cagnes in the South of France on
December 3, 1919.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born on 25 February 1841 in Limoges.
He was the sixth child of Léonard Renoir (1799-1874) and
Marguerite Merlet (1807-1896). In 1844 Renoir and his family
moved to Paris where Léonard Renoir earned his living as a
In 1854 Renoir left school and begin his apprenticeship as a
porcelain painter at the firm of Lévy frères. His precocious
talent for painting would assure his career as a porcelain
painter but the firm went bankrupt in 1858. After that Renoir
dabbled in a number of different jobs but it seems that he may
have decided to become a full-time painter around this date.
On January 24, 1860 Renoir was granted permission to copy in the
Louvre, a practice that he maintained for the next four years.
At this time Renoir had a taste for eighteenth-century masters,
including Fragonard, Lancret, Watteau and above all Boucher.
Boucher's Bath of Diana was the first painting that he adored
and he continued to love it all his life.
By the following year, 1861, Renoir had begun attending the
studio of Marc-Gabriel-Charles Gleyer, a Swiss teacher who
offered practical instruction to a number of artists. At the
same time Renoir enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and he was
there from 1 April 1862 until a couple of years later. In 1863
Renoir may have submitted a work to the official Salon (an
annual exhibition of paintings chosen by the jury) but if he did
it seams that the jury refused it.
At the Salon the following year Renoir had his first success -
the painting entitled Esmeralda Dancing with her Goat around a
Fire Illuminating the Entire Crowd of Vagabonds, which he
destroyed after the exhibition.
At the Gleyre's studio Renoir worked with other young artists
with whom he had become friendly and these were the future
Impressionist painters Claude Monet (1840-1924), Alfred Sisley
(1839-1899) and Jean-Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870).
Other artists whom he met around this time were Henry
Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), Camile Pissarro (1830-1903) and Paul
Cézanne (1839-1906). By 1863 the nucleus of the future
Impressionist group was formed.
Typical Renoir’s work from this period include Mother Anthony's
Inn at Marlotte which although pointed in the forest at
Fontainebleau is a genre scene painted indoors, and Jules le
Couer in Fontainebleau Forest, a work which was clearly painted
in the studio, perhaps based on sketches done in the open.
Jules le Coeur (1832-82) owned a house in Marlotte at which
Renoir was frequently a guest at this time. At the end of 1865
Le Coeur introduced him to the seventeen-year-old Lise Tréhot
who became his lover and model until her marriage in 1872. She
posed for a number of works and modeled for the paintings Renoir
submitted to the Salon, such as Diana, Lise with a Parasol,
Summer, Bather with Griffon and Woman of Algiers.
Because those works were destined for the Salon they tended to
be rather conventional in their composition and very smoothly
executed but at the same time Renoir was painting much more
informal works in which the traditional distinction between
sketch and finished painting was gradually being eroded.
In 1869 Renoir and Monet worked together and produced what are
usually regarded as the first landscape paintings in which the
impressionist style of painting is properly evident. Working at
La Grenouillère on the Seine near Bougival, Monet and Renoir
executed a number of works and seven are known today.
The Renoirs works at La Grenouillère are painted on fairly small
canvases and their lack of finish betrays a rapid execution
typical of works done out of doors, capturing the essentials
before the light changes dramatically. Compared with another
early landscape painting, one of the most dramatic changes in
the works done at La Grenouillère was in the artists’ use of
color. Both Renoir and Monet have increased the general
brightness of the work by the use of color complementary,
particularly the juxtaposition of red and green in the boats.
One of the principal tenets of the impressionist method, that
the local colors of objects are affected by their neighbors, is
observed here. The composition is a very conscious construction,
held together by the lines of the horizon and the jetty.
The following year Renoir had two figure paintings accepted at
the Salon – Bather with Griffon and Woman of Algiers, for both
of which Lise had posed. Certain conventions in the depictions
of North African themes had been established by Delacroix
(1789-1863) among others, after French colonization in the 1830s
and these would have helped to lend to the works appear and
accessibility. The availability and sensuality of Algerian woman
was seen as indisputable.
On 19 July 1870 France declared war on Prussia and the following
mount Renoir was mobilized. Whether because of family
commitments or out of an unwillingness to support Napoleon III’s
political régime, most of his artist friends avoided being
In London Monet met a Parisian picture dealer, Paul Durant-Ruel,
whom he introduced to Renoir in summer of 1872. That year
Durant-Ruel bought a flower still life and the Pont des Arts
from Renoir. Shorty thereafter, Renoir moved into a studio at 74
rue Saint-Georges where he painted some of his most memorable
scenes of Parisian life and which was to be the center of his
life for the next decade. Renoir was decided not to submit to
the official Salon the following year but to stage an
independent exhibition with his friends.
In the summer of 1873, Renoir went to stay with Monet nine
kilometers north-west of Paris on the Seine. Renoir and Monet
continued the practice established at Gleyre’s studio and
painted together in the open air. Once again their close
artistic collaboration was to prove fruitful, and each produced
a number of works in which their practice is similar. In Monet
Painting in the Garden at Argenteuil Renoir demonstrates how far
these private works have departed from the more ponderous style
he adopted for Salon paintings such as Riding in the Bois de
Boulogne. The following summer Monet, Manet and Renoir all
worked together; this work is a testament to the impressionist
After the failure of the 1873 Salon, Gleyre’s former students
and artists like Pissarro and Cézanne began seriously to
consider holding an exhibition of their work which would be free
of the constraints of the Salon system. The financial
independence which the purchases had offered the group meant
that it was only Renoir who had continued to send to the Salon
in 1872 and 1873. His continued allegiance to the Salon
demonstrates that he considered it much more that simply a means
of generation sales but as an important testing for his
By the end of 1873 Renoir, Pissarro, Monet, Cézanne, Sisley,
Berthe Morisot (1841-95), Degas (1834-1917) and other artists
some of whom had already had a measure of success at the Salon,
had registered themselves as a joint stock company. Manet did
not join them, preferring to pursue his career at the Salon
where he was beginning to have some success. Renoir exhibited
seven works, including Dancer, La Loge and the Parisienne.
The exhibition opened on 15 April 1874 at a prestigious venue at
35 boulevard des Capucines, one of the great boulevards. The
main aim at the exhibition was the freedom to exhibit work
without the constraints of a jury system and any practical
decisions which had to be made in the hanging of the works were
taken democratically. The works were hung alphabetically;
generally works were hung on one level, rather than according to
the more hierarchical system adopted at the Salon.
Although some of over fifty articles or notices in the press
about the exhibition were critical, most found something
worthwhile to say, if not about works themselves, then about the
artists challenge to the stranglehold of official art
exhibitions. A number of writers used the word ‘impressionist’
in their articles to designate the group.
The exhibition was judged to be a success in terms of visitors
but was a financial failure and Renoir was put in charge of the
liquidation committee. They had no choice but to dissolve the
Because of the need to clear their debts and in order to gain
some publicity Morisot, Monet, Renoir, and Sisley decided to
hold a public auction of their work in the Hôtel Drouout, the
Parisian auction house on 23 and 24 March 1875. Renoir sold 20
paintings for a total of 2251 francs, some of them for as little
as 50 francs, less than their reserve price. Shortly after the
auction he received a commission from Victor Chocquet. Chocquet
was one of the most important early collectors of works by
Impressionist painters, particularly Cézanne, Monet and Renoir.
His first commission was a portrait of his wife Caroline. That
some year Renoir was commissioned by the industrialist Jean
Dollfuss to copy Delacroix’s Jewish Wedding in the Louvre for
In April 1876 the second Impressionist exhibition was held.
Renoir exhibited 19 works, six of which were loaned by Chocquet
and two by Dollfuss. Manet was listed as the owner of Frédéric
Bazille, Painter Killed at Beaune-la-Rolande.
This summer Renoir began work on a major painting, sketching at
the Moulin de la Galette in Montmartre and in the garden of a
new studio he had rented at the top of the hill near the
picturesque windmills. A that time Montmartre with its market
gardens still retained some of the charm of its original village
atmosphere, although the areas around were increasingly
industrialized. It seems that from the outset, Renoir regarded
this work as a major artistic statement, akin to a Salon
painting in conception if not in finish. He tackled it with the
same degree of single mindedness, working it up from rough
sketch through a much larger oil sketch to the finished picture.
The Moulin de la Galette took its name from one of the old
windmills which contributed to the rather rustic atmosphere
which still prevailed at Montmartre at this time. Every Sunday
afternoon young people from the north of Paris contributed in
the dance-hall and in the courtyard behind it in fine weather.
In 1877 the group realized the third independent exhibition and
published their own journal. L’impressionniste was never
properly a manifesto, and did not survive beyond the four issues
produced for the exhibition, but it demonstrates the artist’s
commitment to exerting as much control as possible over the
promotion and reception of their works. Renoir contributed to
L’impressionniste with two letters. However, most of the journal
was written and edited by Revière. Much at that we now know
about Renoir’s work on the Moulin de la Galette derives from the
account left by the civil servant and writer Georges Revière,
who knew him well at this time.
In 1878 Renoir was accepted the Salon, the first time for eight
years, with Le Café, a genre painting of a fashionable young
woman enjoying a cup of coffee. He showed four works et the
Salon in 1879, including the large society portrait of Madame
Charpentier and her Children. The portrait was hung in a
prominent place at the Salon, mainly because of the intervention
and influence of Mr. Charpentier, and was critically
well-received due to writing of Pissarro who related that Renoir
had a ‘great success at the Salon’, and Zola.
Marguerite Charpentier was the wife of the publisher Georges
Charpentier and hostess of one of the most fashionable salon in
Paris, at which Renoir was a regular guest. At the beginning of
the Third Republic the most fashionable salon in Paris attracted
a number of writers including Zola, Floeebert, Maupassant,
Turgenev, the artist Manet, and the politician Léon Gambetta. In
April 1879 Georges Charpentier founded the weekly journal La Vie
Moderne, devoted to art, literature, and society gossip and for
which Renoir provided a number of illustrations.
The end of Impressionism?
In January 1881 Durand-Ruel had begun purchasing far greater
numbers of Renoir’s paintings than previously and that year he
spends 16,000 francs on them. This offered Renoir an
unprecedented degree of financial security and he did not have a
family to support which left him free to spend the money on
foreign travel. The first two trips abroad Renoir made were to
Italy and North Africa, destinations common for
nineteenth-century artists. For least part of that time, he was
travelling with Aline Carigot. He had met Aline at the end of
1879 or the beginning of 1880. She had recently arrived in
Paris, where she logged with her mother, from the village of
Essoyes in Champagne. It is not clear when she and Renoir become
lovers, but the first painting for which she modeled was the
ambitious Luncheon of the Boating Party painted 1880-1. Renoir
did not marry Aline until 1890 when their eldest son was five
years old, ten years after their first meeting.
If the trip to Algeria was in a sense a confirmation of his
earlier work, then the Italian journey was to be influential for
Renoir’s art through the remainder of the 1880s, the most
experimental and troublesome decade of his career. Much of the
work produced in the 1880s is groping and experimental in
The important reason for the change in Renoir’s art at that time
was the impact of the masters of the Renaissance whom he student
in Italy. Renoir later said that he had reached the end of
impressionism. One of the main objectives of the impressionist
style, an accurate analysis of the effects of light and color
reflexions on objects in the open air, was riddled with
paradoxes as Renoir and several observant critics had already
recognized. In translating the blue of the river in The Skiff
into paint, Renoir has built a picture with claims to
objectivity, on his most personal, least communicable sensations
of colors and tones. In The Skiff, a superb example of the
impressionist idiom taken to its logical conclusion, Renoir’s
observations are turned into a painting in which the forms of
the object represented seem set to disintegrate.
In a painting such as The Umbrellas Renoir’s change in practice
is evident. The painting was begun around 1881 before the trip
to Italy and the right-hand side of the canvas betrays a fluffy
handling which is characteristic of his work at this time, and
much closer to The Skiff, for example. The work was finished
some four years later and the much tighter, structured, and
linear approach differentiates the left-hand side of the
painting. The new 'dry' style reached its climax in The
Children’s Afternoon at Wargemont and particularly the Bathers.
The Bathers marked Renoir’s return to the more traditional
subject-mother of official Salon art, and after the mid-eighties
the nude was to be of primary concern. The links with academic
art, much as Cabanel’s Birth of Venus, were clear, but Renoir
was attempting in technique and subject to lend his art a
classical and universalized flavor.
On his return to France from Italy at the beginning of 1882,
Renoir met Cézanne. Renoir had know him for twenty years, and he
had been one of the original exhibitors at the first
Impressionist show, but Cézanne had been working for some time
in isolation in the south of France, at his home in
Aix-en-Provence and Renoir start to work with him. For several
years he had been seeking to structure his composition in a more
systematic and controlled fashion, and his method was evident in
work like the Château de Medan. In his work, the picture surface
is lightly structured by a system of diagonal parallel catching.
This has the effect of merging near and planes which would
normally be differentiated by the use of aerial perspective and
the suggestion of the momentary, fleeting aspects of nature have
been replaced by something more timeless, permanent and
In the light of changes in his artistic process Renoir opted for
the Salon as the natural venue for his paintings, rather than
the independent exhibition. In 1882, when Durand-Ruel was
desperate to present a seemingly united band of Impressionists
at exhibition in what has to be the seventh group show, Renoir
was still in the south with Cézanne. Renoir made it clear that
the mistrusted the combination of Pissarro and Gauguin and that
to be associated with Gauguin at an exhibition would cause his
canvases to fall by 50% in value. Renoir’s rupture with the
group and with the style was complete – he did not exhibit at
the eighth and final show in 1886.
Linked to Renoir’s desire for a ‘pure’ art was the notion of a
mythical past in which people lived in a ‘natural’ state, based
on the model of a pre-industrial era and in which individuality
was highly valued. For Renoir this involved an artisanal
approach to art, and he found its archetype in the art of
pre-revolutionary eighteenth-century France. Throughout his
career, from his copying in the Louvre as a student, right until
the end of his life, Renoir continued to praise the masters of
The Societe des Irrégularistes
Renoir wrote to Durand-Reul in May 1884 announcing that he was
planning to go to Paris to hold a meeting of a new society which
he was attempting to inaugurate. His guiding principle for the
new society was that of irregularity – and he explains that
nature has a horror of regularity. Natural objects are
infinitely varied in their formulation, according to Renoir, the
eyes in even the most beautiful face are not identical, nor are
the leaves on a tree. When we examine the greatest works of art,
whether paintings, sculpture or architecture, it becomes evident
that their creators have sought to imitate nature in that
respect and adhered to the fundamental law of irregularity.
Renoir recommends certain steps to be taken, one of which would
be the foundation of a so-called Société des Irrégularistes
which would host exhibitions and whose members would adhere to
the principle of irregularity. In his notes, Renoir recommended
that art should be a harmony of complementing contrast and
This notion of irregularity was clearly one of the guiding
principles behind works much as the Bathers which combine
impressionist elements – the landscape and the two women in the
background, with a much more linear, tightly composed
foreground. The vision of society that Renoir describes in his
paintings by the 1880s is a pre-industrial one which is rigidly
hierarchical. The universalized society he depicted in his
painting was in fact the blueprinted for society as it ought to
be ordered, in which harmony was achieved precisely because
people were individual, dissimilar, and recognized their
position within a rigid hierarchy. One of the effects of
Renoir’s reassessment of his work and ideology at this time was
that women, particularly nude women, began to adopt a more
prominent position in his art, but within narrowly defined
Renoir’s dislike of the ‘progress’ of the modern industrial
world and its basis in scientific knowledge was a notion that
was gaining currency at this time – in literature Zola, the
philosopher and writer Hippolyte Taine, for example. Renoir is
less concerned with discovering the universal principles which
are manifest in all material reality; instead his ideals are
more individual and linked a recommended vision of ordering the
world. The importance of individuality artistic freedom and
traditional, craft based technique were issues that concerned
him until the end of his life.
In 1883, the year before drawing up his plans for the Société
des Irrégularistes, Renoir made his last submission to the
Salon. After this time, his work was displayed at a number of
dealer’s shows and at occasional independent exhibitions. The
sense of isolation that Renoir experienced in the 1880s and
1890s was social and cultural, but it was also to an extent
political. In the 1990s the affair in which a Jewish officer in
the French army, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongly accused of
diverging secrets to the Germans, polarized the French nation.
This further alienated Renoir from more liberal, Republican
friends such as Monet, Zola and Pissarro.
Around this time Renoir’s domestic situation changed. His first
son, Pierre, was born on 21 March 1885, and although the family
still lived in Paris, they started visiting Aline Charigot’s
native village of Essoyes in southern Champagne that year and
they become regular visitors. Their marriage did not take place
until 14 April 1890 and Renoir has kept his liaison secret for
so long. On 15 September 1894 their second son, Jean, was born
and Gabrielle Renard, a distant cousin from Essoyes, had joined
the household to help with the children. She subsequently
becomes one of Renoir’s favorite models. The Renoir’s youngest
son Claude, known as Coco, was born on 4 August 1901, by which
time his mother was over 40 and his father was 60.
The Late Work
About 1884 Renoir left his studio on the rue Saint-Georges and
his work revolved around wife and their children. As his
domestic life became more settled, and his finances more secure,
his pleasant bourgeois existence was reflected in his art. In
middle age, Renoir became more bourgeois and works such as the
great triptych of Dance pictures, and is celebrations of the
valuable middle-class commodity of leisure
Renoir’s last submission on the Salon, in 1890, was a double
portrait of the daughters of Catulle Mendès at the piano, and
his first bought by the French State, the Young Girls at the
Piano, both deal with the theme of leisure. In these works the
models move at ease in claustrophobic setting with all the
trappings of middle-class urban life. The large group portrait
of The Artists Family is an informal study in the garden of the
Château des Brouillards in Montmartre, in which they lived from
the fall of 1890. However, it is pervaded with the atmosphere of
a group photograph in which each figure has been assigned a
place and there is a sense of slight unease suggested by their
costumes. Madame Renoir, a vast matriarchal figure, presides
over the group, resplendent in a magnificent bonnet. Her eldest
son, eleven-year-old Pierre, hangs on her arm, dressed in a
fashionable sailor’s suit. In the foreground, Gabrielle Renard,
without a hat and wearing an apron, is very much in the role of
family servant, attending to the toddler Jean in a long gown and
with a sumptuous bonnet like his mother’s. The third child is
the daughter of the writer Paul Alexis. The trees in the
background have all the veracity of the photographers’
backcloth. The work appears to affirm the Renoir’s arrival into
On the beginning of 1894 died Gustave Caillebotte, a naval
architect by profession who painted in his spare time and had
built up an impressive collection of their works which on his
death was bequeathed to the French State. He had named Renoir as
one of its executors and Renoir required a great deal of
tenacity in order to see his friend’s wishes upheld. The bequest
comprised 67 pictures – including both drawings and paintings:
eight works by Renoir (including The Swing and Ball at the
Moulin de la Galette), five by Cézanne, four by Manet, seven by
Degas, eighteen by Pissarro, nine Sisley’s and sixteen Monet’s.
During the 1890s Renoir began a series of foreign travels, often
to see the great museums of the world. In 1892 he vent to Madrid
and admired the work of Velázqueze in the Prado. Laiter he
visited Dresden, England and Netherlands where he saw a large
Rembrandt exhibition in Amsterdam. In France he continued to
live in Paris, but the family bought a house in Essoyes in 1895.
Renoir’s maturity was marred by ill health. A fall from his
bicycle in the summer of 1897 left him with a broken right arm,
which exacerbated his arthritis that from 1902 began seriously
to affect him, and restrict his painting activities. Rheumatism
caused him great pain and he had problems with a partial atrophy
of the nerve in his left eye. By 1910 he was continued to a
wheelchair and his grossly deformed hands had to be bound with
bandages to retrieve the chafing from attempting to hold a
A partial relief from the pain could be derived from living in a
mild, dry climate and may have helped Renoir to decide to buy a
property in Cagnes in the south of France. During 1907-8 he had
a house and studio built on the site of an olive grove at Les
Collettes and the family moved there in the fall of 1908.
According to Jean, the family enjoyed every material comfort on
offer at the beginning of the twentieth century: electricity,
central treating, a telephone and Renoir had a motor car. After
this date, he typically spent winters in Cagnes, and the summers
in Essoyes with trips to Paris, to heap in touch with old
friends, exhibitions and the museums.
On 3 August 1914 Germany declared war on France and Renoir’s two
elder sons were wounded in action in October. The following
year, Jean was badly wounded and hospitalized in Eastern France.
His mother went to visit him but she died on her return to Nice
on 27 June 1915.
Renoir had met the picture dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1894 or 5.
He start to be one of the most important people in Renoir’s
life, buying pictures, hosting exhibitions and influencing the
artist’s choice of subject-matter and medium. He also wrote one
of the most widely read monographs and controlled a large cache
of Renoir’s work after his death, ensuring his posthumous
In the summer of 1913 Vollard suggested that Renoir attempt
sculpture. We will mention Venus Victorious by Renoir and
Richard Guino. The final version of the Venus Victorious is six
feet in the eight, slightly over life-size, but with a far
greater sense of monumentality. The statue depicts the goddess
Venus holding the golden apple which she is awarded by Paris, a
favorite mythological theme that preoccupied Renoir towards the
end of his life.
Renoir’s subject-matter in his later work was concerned with
depicting woman, and his late work features members of his
household entourage; his children and Gabrielle Renard. Renoir’s
biographers all testify to his working best when surrounded by
women, to whom he could listen as they sang at their work. It
seems that his painting and his desire for the company of women
were symptomatic of a more general attitude towards them. Women,
and to a lesser extent children, might serve as muses. His
mistrust of educated women is well-known. Renoir’s ‘otherness’
is suggested by his being ‘close to nature and yet unacquainted
with the veneer of civilization.’ For Renoir’s publisher, the
writer Gustave Geffroy, in common with so many others who have
written about his paintings, it took Renoir’s ability with a
paintbrush to ‘civilize’ these women and turn them into Art.
Geffroy, and Renoir, imagined that culture in its widest sense,
was a strictly made preserve. Any appeal to the ‘natural’
qualities of femininity was, in effect, an argument for the
preservation of the status quo.
Renoir died on 3 December 1919 in Cagnes, aged 78. His sickness
was not the immediate cause at his death. He had a heart attack.
Jean and Claude were with him when he died. His estate, valued
at five million francs, was bequeathed to his three sons.
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This web page was last updated on:
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