Pierre-Auguste Renoir Artwork

Page content: The beginning, Renoir and the Impressionists, Renoir and his close relationship with Monet, Cezanne's influence and the trips to Algeria, Italy and Spain

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was apprenticed to a porcelain painter and then, for a living, he painted fans, copying scenes from artists such as Fragonard, Watteau, and Boucher as well as painting blinds and other odd jobs before enrolling in Gleyre's atelier in 1861. Having been trained as an artistic craftsman, his whole philosophy in art was geared to the acquisition of technique.

The beginning

Renoir's career at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts was hardly spectacular; at one occasion he came fourth with an honorable mention in the perspective drawing examination, but generally his results were undistinguished. Monet, Bazille and Sisley had soon become important allies. They were all from the prosperous middle class, though Renoir, from the skilled working class, had to earn a living by undertaking decorative work. doubts about his own ability.

His first successful submission to the Salon in 1865 was a portrait of Sisley's wealthy father, and the greater part of his career was to depend on patronage by and portraiture for the bourgeoisie.

Renoir and the Impressionists

In 1868 Renoir and Bazille moved into rooms with a studio in the Batignolles quarter of Paris. As a member of the group of the future Impressionists who had gravitated towards Batignoles and the Cafe Guerbois, Renoir was now becoming involved in the struggle for recognition. Following the Salon's rejection of his painting "Diana the Huntress (Diane chasseresse) in 1867, he had signed a petition calling for another Salon des Refuses and was soon to be a member of Societe anonyme which launched the first Impressionist show.

At 1868 he received considerable acclaim at the Salon for his painting "Lise with a Parasol (Lise au parasol), which Zola thought "a successful exploration of the modern". The critic Duret had bought a previous "Lise" also known as "The Gypsy Girl" (La Gitane), and Renoir's name was increasingly to be heard mentioned in connection with the avant-garde whilst his style remained subtly tailored to the Salon.

back to top

Renoir and his close relationship with Monet

In 1869 Renoir spent the summer living with his parents in Louveciennes. Nearly every day he traveled the few miles up the river to Bougival where Monet was living and together they went to paint at the popular bathing establishment known as La Grenouillere (The Froggery) on the Ile-de-Croissy in the Seine. To many minds this is the place where Impressionism was born. The two artists worked side by side at the same time views with practically the same palette and brushstrokes. A comparison of the results of that summer shows that Renoir had tried to apply a great deal of Monet's approach. The short, rapid brushstrokes and high t-keyed colors employed by Monet are echoed by Renoir, but in a more uncertain fashion. Renoir approach to the subject concentrates more on the crowd of figures in the scene.

Between 1871 and 1874 Renoir continued his close association with Monet, visiting him at Argenteuil during the summers, he now had a studio in Montmartre. His style was beginning to mature, his view of the "Pont Nuef" of 1872, though the choice of the subject was influenced by Monet, presents a highly original use of color and contrasts strongly with a rather dour view of a similar subject, the "Pont des Arts" done in 1867.

Towards the end of the 1870s Renoir began to be less involved with the Impressionists as a group. After the third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 he forsook the group and began to concentrate on the Salon as an outlet for his work. His new patrons the Charpentiers were now beginning to commission portraits as well as decorations for their town house in Paris and Renoir scored a relative success at the Salon of 1879 with the "Portrait of Madame Charpentier and her Children".

It is ironic and typical of Renoir's nature that at a time he was producing veritable icons of Impressionist art he was also beginning to have serious doubts about his own ability. The financial need to paint an increasing number of society portraits no doubts aggravated the strain on his own artistic judgment of himself. To make matters worst, in 1880 he and Monet had fallen out with Degas, who they suspected was hijacking the Impressionist exhibitions and populating them with his proteges.

back to top

Cezanne's influence and the trips to Algeria, Italy and Spain

A trip to Algeria, his first abroad, in the spring of 1881 reassured him of the direction he was taking as an Impressionist and he was soon back to France at Chatou and Bougival painting masterpieces as "Luncheon of the Boating Party" (Le Dejeuner des canoteurs) with rekindled vigor. But by October he had left for Italy.

Renoir had gone to Algeria in the Romantic footsteps of Delacroix, but he now approached Italy seeking the formal classicism of Raphael, which he was to find in the great decorations at the Villa Farnesina. He was profoundly influenced by what he called "the grandeur and simplicity" of the ancient Pompean wall paintings in Naples.

1882 Renoir returned to France and joined Cezanne at L'Estaque in south of France. He had also caught something of Cezanne's vision of the hidden structure of planes and lines in nature. The confusion of the diverse influence at work on Renoir can be seen in "The Umbrellas" (Les Parapluies), which shows him struggling to reconcile a linear style with Impressionist brushwork.

After a trip to Spain in 1882 and a new inspiration from Velazquez the insistence on line gradually softened, but his concern with the human figure remained overwhelmingly important.

back to top