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Pierre-Auguste Renoir

1841 - 1919




The Painter

In 1854 he began working as a painter in a porcelain factory in Paris, gaining experience with the light, fresh colors that were to distinguish his Impressionist work and also learning the importance of good craftsmanship. His predilection towards lighthearted themes was also influenced by the great Rococo masters, whose works he studied in the Louvre.

La Grenouillère, 1869
National Museum, Stockholm

In 1862 he entered the studio of Gleyre and there formed a lasting friendship with Monet, Sisley and Bazille. He painted with them in the Barbizon district and became a leading member of the group of Impressionists who met at the Café Guerbois. His relationship with Monet was particularly close at this time, and their paintings of the beauty spot called La Grenouillère done in 1869 (an example by Renoir is in the National museum, Stockholm) are regarded as the classic early statements of the Impressionist style.

Irène Cahen d'Anvers, 1879
E.G. Buhrle Collection, Zurich

Like Monet, Renoir endured much hardship early in his career, but he began to achieve success as a portraitist in the late 1870s and was freed from financial worries after the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel began buying his work regularly in 1881. By this time Renoir had 'traveled as far as Impressionism could take me', and a visit to Italy in 1881-82 inspired him to seek a greater sense of solidarity in his work.

Les Parapluies (detail),
1881-82 and 1885-86
National Gallery, London

The change in attitude is seen in "The Umbrellas" which was evidently begun before the visit to Italy and finished afterwards; the two little girls on the right are painted with the feathery brushstrokes characteristic of his Impressionist manner, but the figures on the left are done in a crisper and drier style, with duller coloring.

Tilla Durieux, 1914
Metropolitan Museum
of Art, NY

After a period of experimentation with what he called his "manière aigre" (harsh or sour manner) in the mid 1880s, he developed a softer and more supple kind of handling. At the same time he turned from contemporary themes to more timeless subjects, particularly nudes, but also pictures of children in unspecific settings. As his style became grander and simpler he also took up mythological subjects(The Judgment of Paris; Hiroshima Museum of Art; 1913-14),and the female type he preferred became more mature and ample.

La Ferme des Collettes, Cagnes
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

In the 1890s Renoir began to suffer from rheumatism, and from 1903 (by which time he was world-famous) he lived in the warmth of the south of France. The rheumatism eventually crippled him (by 1912 he was confined to a wheelchair), but he continued to paint until the end of his life, and in his last years he also took up sculpture, directing assistants (including Richard Guino, a pupil of Maillol) to act as his hands (Venus Victorious; Tate, London; 1914)(cf Renoir Sculptor).

Renoir is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, for his subjects,pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women have instant appeal, and he communicated the joy he took in them with great directness. "Why shouldn't art be pretty?", he said, "There are enough unpleasant things in the world." He was one of the great worshippers of the female form, and he said "I never think I have finished a nude until I think I could pinch it."

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The Sculptor

Sculpture has always been the basis of the paintings of Renoir.  One has only to look at the full smooth shapes, substantial and firm, of all the women that he painted, to be convinced of that.  Be they women of the world, women of easy virtue, servant girls or country girls, they never express fragility, license or affectation.  And very naturally he had them come out of his paintings and materialize in front of us in three dimensions.

Le Médaillon de Coco
(mèche tombante), 1907

During the summer of 1907, Maillol, who was staying at the Renoir's in Essoyes, sculpted a bust of the painter.  Soon after, Renoir threw himself into a frenzy of sculpture and created a few medallions of Coco (his yougest son, Claude).  The following year, his thirst of sculpture was not yet satisfied and he sculpted a bust of Coco.

This was not, however, the artist's first effort in relief.  In 1879, he created a mirror frame decorated with delicately sculpted flowers for Mme Charpentier.

La Danseuse au voile, 1918

At the pinnacle of his glory, honored and respected, happy in his family and when he could have deepened into the pleasure of sculpting, his vacillating health and his physical weakness prevented him from pursuing his efforts in this field.

But Renoir's sculpture remained in the mind of his art dealer, Ambroise Vollard.   From 1908 to 1912 he busily and cunningly looked for a way to satisfy the old master's desire to sculpt.

Certainly not totally unselfish, Vollard's efforts were rewarded and when he hired Guino, a young Catalan man (born 1890) and lent him to Renoir, the sculpture project became reality.

Renoir threw himself in an unceasing work.  He looked at everything in the least details; the choice of the subjects that he would take mostly from his paintings and drawings, the size, the technique, the volumes and from this intensive work a sculptural concept, typical to Renoir took shape.

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