Pierre-Auguste RENOIR ( 1841 - 1919 )

Pierre Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges in 1841, the sixth of Léonard Renoir and Marguerite Merlet's seven children. His father was a tailor, and his mother was a dressmaker. His family moved to Paris in 1844. 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 museum, where he studied the art of earlier French masters, particularly those of the 18th Century such as Antoine Watteau, François Boucher and Jean Honoré Fragonard. His deep respect for these artists influenced his own painting throughout his career. In 1862, Renoir decided to study painting seriously and entered the studio of the painter Charles Gleyre, where he met other artists such as Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley. During the next six 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 "Diane Chasseresse" from 1867, while Manet's influence can be seen in the flat tones of "Alfred Sisley and His Wife" from 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", a portrait of his girlfriend, Lise Tréhot. He continued to develop his work and to study the paintings of other artists of the day such as Camille Corot and Eugène Delacroix. Renoir's debt to Delacroix is apparent in the lush "Odalisque" from 1870. A revolution was beginning in French painting. A number of young painters began to rebel against the traditions of Western painting and 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 that in many ways departed from the look of Old Master painting. The new art displayed bright light and color, instead of the solemn browns and blacks of previous painting. These qualities, among others, signaled the beginning of impressionist art. In 1869 Renoir and Monet worked together at "La Grenouillère", a bathing spot on the river Seine. Both artists became interested in painting light and water. According to Phoebe Pool, this was a key 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 almost identical at this time, a sign of the dedication with which they pursued and shared their new discoveries. During the 1870s they continued to work together at times, although their styles generally developed in more personal directions. In 1874 Renoir participated in the first impressionist exhibition; his works included the "Opera Box". Of all the impressionists, Renoir most thoroughly adapted the new style to the great tradition of figure painting. Although the impressionist exhibitions were the targets of much public scorn during the 1870s, Renoir's popularity gradually increased during this time. He became a friend of Caillebotte, one of the first supporters of the impressionists, and he was also backed by several art dealers and collectors. In the 1870s Renoir also produced some of his most celebrated impressionist scenes, including "the Swing" and the "Moulin de la Galette" from 1876. These works show men and women together, openly and casually enjoying a society bathed in warm sunlight. Figures blend softly into one another and into their surrounding space. These paintings are pleasurable and full of human feeling. During the 1880s, Renoir began to separate himself from the impressionists, largely because he became unhappy with the direction the new style was taking in his own hands. In paintings like the "Luncheon of the Boating Party" from 1880, he felt that his style was becoming too loose and that forms were becoming less distinct. As a result, he looked to the past for a fresh inspiration. In 1881, he traveled to Italy and was particularly impressed by the art of Raphael. During the next six 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 increased clarity. The works from this period, such as the "Umbrellas" from 1883 and the "Grandes Baigneuses" from 1884, are generally considered the least successful of Renoir's mature expressions. By the end of the 1880s Renoir had passed through his dry period. His late work is truly remarkable: a glorious outpouring of nude figures, beautiful young girls, and lush landscapes. Examples of this style include the "Music Lesson" from 1891, "Young Girl Reading" from 1892 and "Sleeping Bather" from 1897. In many ways, the generosity of feeling in these paintings expands on the achievements of his great work in the 1870s. Renoir's health declined severely in his later years. In 1903, he suffered his first attack of arthritis and settled for the winter at Cagnes-sur-Mer. The arthritis made painting painful and often impossible. Still, he continued to work, at times with a brush tied to his crippled hand. Renoir died at Cagnes-sur-Mer in 1919, but not before an experience of supreme triumph: the state had purchased his portrait "Madame Georges Charpentier" from 1877, and he traveled to Paris to see it hanging in the Louvre museum.