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Renoir, Pierre-Auguste

Pierre-Auguste Renoir


Born February 25, 1841, in Limoges, France; died December 3, 1919, in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France; son of Léonard (a tailor) and Marguerite (a seamstress) Renoir; married Aline Charigot (an artist's model), 1882; children: Pierre, Jean, Claude. Education: Attended Atelier Gleyre, 1862.


Painter. Worked as commercial painter of porcelain, fans, and window shades, c. 1854-62.


Exposition A. Renoir, E. Ménard (Paris, France), 1892.

Renoir Drawings, edited by John Rewald, H. Bittner (New York, NY), 1946.

Pierre Auguste Renoir, introduction by Walter Pach, H. N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1950.

Peintures, 1868-1895, introduction by Jean Cassou, Éditions du Chéne (Paris, France), 1950.

Renoir: Watercolors and Pastels, commentary by François Daulte, translated by Robert Allen, H. N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1959.

(As Auguste Renoir) Renoir by Renoir, edited by Rachel Barnes, Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.

Renoir Lithographs: 32 Works, Dover (New York, NY), 1994.

Reproductions of Renoir's work are collected in numerous other books.


French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir is considered one of the most significant Impressionist painters of the nineteenth century. Projecting warmth, richness of feeling, and sensuality through the artist's use of broad brush strokes, Renoir's canvases reflect the painter's affection and respect for the people and places he captures in his many oil portraits. As the artist was once noted as saying, "Why shouldn't art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world." In addition to his portraits of the nude female form, Renoir's most notable canvases include the 1878 work Madame Charpentier et ses enfants and A Girl with a Watering Can, the second dating from 1876.

Renoir was born in Limoges, France, on February 25, 1841, but his family moved to Paris four years after his birth. As a child, he exhibited a talent and interest in singing and drawing, both of which were noted by his parents, although his vocal talents took preeminence. Despite receiving encouragement in a musical career from a noted composer, Renoir declined an opportunity to join the Paris Opera. His elder sister Lisa first exposed him to painting at the age of nine by taking him to the Louvre, the art museum in Paris. He would doodle in his exercise books in school, and he was later encouraged in art by Lisa's fiancé, the illustrator Charles Leray. After completing his academic education, the thirteen-year-old Renoir entered an apprenticeship at a local porcelain factory, where he put his artistic talent to use painting brightly colored decorative designs on plates, cups, and bowls. Throughout these early years, Renoir made frequent visits to the Louvre during his lunch breaks to study the art of such French masters as François Boucher, Jean Honoré Fragonard, and Antoine Watteau. The young painter's admiration for the works of these successful artists translated itself into an effort to capture their style in his porcelains, which gained him a reputation as a talent in the trade. These painters' influences can also be traced throughout Renoir's subsequent artistic development.

From Commercial to Fine Art

When the factory became automated, twenty-year-old Renoir was left without a job. After painting murals for café walls, he decided to break from such futureless commercial endeavors and study painting seriously. Having saved up enough money to move to Paris, and able to support himself with work painting rococo decorations on ladies' fans and window shades, he entered Paris's Atelier Gleyre, a free school run by Swiss artist Charles Gleyre. He soon found companionship and inspiration within a group of fellow students that included Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Jean Frédéric Bazille.

During his time at Atelier Gleyre, Renoir was influenced heavily by the works of both Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, two of the most innovative artists then working in France. Realist Courbet, with his depiction of everyday scenes rather than idealized subjects, and his perfection of a rough, palette-knife technique, inspired Renoir's use of a broad brush in such pictures as 1867's Diane Chasseresse, while Manet, with his flat tones and unconventional subject matter, inspired Renoir's 1868 painting of fellow artist Sisley and Sisley's wife. While Renoir's work during the 1860s clearly shows the influence of these two established artists, his work also contains the unique sense of intimacy that would characterize his mature work.

Finally deciding to give up his income as a commercial artist in order to devote more time to painting, Renoir sometimes had difficulty accumulating the funds necessary to purchase canvas or paint. Meanwhile, his spirits were further crushed when his work was rejected by the Paris Salon in both 1866—in which he found himself in good company, as the Salon had also refused works by Manet and Cézanne—and 1867. Fortunately, 1868 found things turning around for the dedicated and determined young artist. Championed by writer Emile Zola, several more avant-garde works were admitted for exhibition at that year's Paris Salon, among them Renoir's Lise, a portrait of his current mistress and favorite model, Lise Tréhot.

Explores Impressionism

In the summer of 1869, twenty-eight-year-old Renoir and friend Monet traveled together to La Grenouillère, a popular bathing spot on the banks of the Seine. While there, the artists became obsessed with the interplay between light and water, particularly the changes in the tone of light during different weather and times of day. They worked quickly, with the result that their coarse, hurried brush strokes would be perceived as sloppy by some, but their goal was to capture light's ephemeral quality. From light their interest turned to shadow, which was traditionally depicted in shades of brown or gray; now the two young artists began to realize that shadow is the absence of light, and it retains the color of the area in which it falls. Their study of light extended also to the changed form of light when tinged by reflections of nearby objects, and its alteration when contrasted with objects of complementary or contingent colors. Working together side by side, Renoir and Monet soon found, to their amusement, that their paintings done at La Grenouillère are almost interchangeable.

In 1870 Europe erupted in the year-long Franco-Prussian War; Renoir was mobilized and sent to the Pyrenees to train horses, while friend Bazille would be killed in battle. In the decade that followed, a revolution also erupted in French painting, setting the stage for modern art. Encouraged by Courbet and Manet, who strived for realism in their art, the Impressionist painters looked beyond the dictates of Renaissance art. Rejecting the artificiality imposed by the studio, these artists turned to the natural world and everyday life for inspiration and subject matter. As a result, their paintings gained a freshness and immediacy that marked a significant break with the works of the Old Masters.

In technique, the French Impressionnists also rejected established norms, turning to innovative techniques in their quest to depict the interplay between light and color. Rather than mixing hues on a palette, the impressionists first intended to use pure colors and apply them to the canvas in such a way that they blended together into the desired hue when viewed from a distance. While this theory was only employed by a few painters—among them Renoir, who only used five colors on his palette—the overriding objective—to capture the color of light within each picture—was pursued by all. Next to the somber browns and blacks, and the static portraits favored by the Salon, the paintings of Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, Camille Pissaro, Berthe Morisot, and Armand Gullaumin were alive with light and humanity. Their influence quickly spread to more established painters, such as Edgar Degas and Paul Cézanne, both of whom went through an Impressionist phase in the 1870s.

In April and May of 1874, Renoir joined with other artists in staging the first impressionist exhibition, the un-juried Salon des Refuses, where he exhibited his La loge, painted in 1874. He exhibited with the Impressionists again in 1876, but after the group's 1877 showing he was notably absent, as were several others who were branching off from the central tenets of Impressionism. For his part, Renoir independently set about adapting the new style—in its inspiration, essentially a landscape style—to the lucrative tradition of figure painting. While the new style was often ridiculed by a still-unaccepting public, Renoir himself benefitted from a friendship with Caillebotte, as well as with art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel and collectors Victor Chocquet, the Charpentier publishing family, and the Daidets. In 1879 his works Madame Charpentier et ses enfants and Portrait of Jeanne Samary were accepted for exhibition at the official Salon, gaining Renoir the welcome reputation as a society painter.

During the 1870s Renoir traveled frequently and produced his acclaimed portrait of Madame Charpentier and family, as well as such celebrated genre scenes as The Swing and Bal au Moulin de la Galette, both completed in 1876. These works embody the painter's basic attitudes about art and life: They depict men and women relaxing and enjoying a setting diffused with warm, radiant sunlight, into which human figures blend softly. Like the paintings of Seurat and Degas, these carefree, sensual images also reflect a new phenomenon in European culture: an urbanized working class enjoying leisure time and a more-affluent middle class displaying its newly earned material wealth.

Classical Period Inspires Later Resurgence

During the 1880s Renoir increasingly separated himself from the Impressionists, his style taking a direction independent of other artists in the group. He felt that by concentrating on technique in favor of the painting as a whole, his work had become excessively "loose" and uncomposed, a characteristic he particularly faulted in his 1881 work Luncheon of the Boating Party. Believing that he had taken as much from Impressionism as he could, and in a search for fresh inspiration—as well as a means of taking his mind off a frustrated love affair—in 1881 the painter traveled to Normandy, Algeria, Spain, and then to Italy. In Italy, Renoir became intrigued by the recently discovered Pompeiian frescoes, as well as by the Vatican frescoes created by Raphael. He traveled to Sicily to meet German composer Richard Wagner, and is reported to have painted Wagner's portrait in just over half an hour.

Determined to rein in the looseness in his renderings, Renoir began to surround his subjects with heavy outlines, and also mimicked Raphael's tight, classical manner. Works from this period include 1883's Dance at Bougival and 1887's Les grandes baigneuses, the latter a large canvas that took three years to complete. Compared to the artist's earlier and subsequent paintings, the works from this period have been viewed by critics as the least successful of Renoir's efforts.

As Renoir entered his fifties, he truly came into his own as an artist. In works such as 1891's Music Lesson and Jeunes filles au piano, which quickly followed, through the 1897 painting Sleeping Bather, he exudes an extraordinary generosity of spirit. Frequently taking women and young girls as his subject, Renoir brought to his canvases an appreciation for the human form and the human spirit; in his generous, languid nudes he creates a mood that is almost timeless.

In addition to gaining inspiration from the French countryside and the inherent beauty of the human form, Renoir was inspired by his family; with wife Aline, a former model twenty years his junior, he had three sons: Pierre, Jean, and Claude. While once opposed to having children of his own because they would take time away from his art, Renoir now found them inspirational. While growing up at the
family's new home in Montmartre, the Renoir children quickly became accustomed to their father's requests that they keep still and serve as artist's models.

Noted twentieth-century filmmaker Jean Renoir, the painter's second son, was born in 1894, and recalled in his memoir Renoir: My Father what life was like with the great painter. "My father loved to paint my hair," the son recalled, "and his fondness for the golden ringlets which came down to my shoulders filled me with despair. At the age of six, and in spite of my trousers, many people mistook me for a girl. Street urchins ran jeering after me, calling me 'Mademoiselle' and asking me what I had done with my skirt. I impatiently awaited the day when I was to enter the College de Sainte-Croix, where regulations required a hairstyle more suited to middleclass ideals. To my great disappointment my father constantly postponed the date of my entry, which for me signified the blissful shedding of those locks." Fortunately for Jean, a younger brother, Claude Renoir (or "Coco") was born in 1901, and Jean then was allowed to cut his locks.

Benefits from Strong Family

By the turn of the twentieth century, the popularity of Renoir's art provided him with financial security. But Renoir's health had began to decline notably, precipitated by a fall from a bicycle in 1887. In 1903 he suffered an attack of rheumatoid arthritis that prompted him to winter at Cagnes-sur-Mer on the Cote d'Azur, and he purchased a home there four years later. By 1908 he could walk only with the aid of two canes, and within four years would be confined to a wheelchair, aided then by his wife's cousin, Gabrielle Renard. Despite the pain, Renoir continued to work, sometimes binding a brush to his hand. His brush strokes became thicker, and his palette included more red and orange tones, giving these mature works a radiance and warmth that has made them perhaps the most popular of his oeuvre. Renoir also began to work in clay, although the arthritis made it difficult for him to work without an assistant.

When war broke out in 1914, the seventy-three-year-old Renoir watched as his middle son, Jean, rode off to battle, having enlisted in the French dragoons only a year before. Jean was closely followed by older brother Pierre. Seriously wounded, Jean returned home within a year, as did Pierre; unfortunately their mother, Aline Renoir, passed away in 1915 after nursing her sons' injuries.

Now a widower, Renoir benefitted from the care of André "Dedé" Heuchling, a former model and now Jean's girlfriend. Dedé helped the painter strap his brushes to his hands and daily carried the elderly Renoir from his bed to his chair to paint. She is credited with the joyous radiance that can be seen in many of Renoir's final works. At the end of the war, Jean Renoir returned to his father's home and joined Dedé and brother Claude in working as potters and caring for his father.

In August of 1919, Renoir was honored by the country of France when the government purchased his portrait of Madame Georges Charpentier. Despite his weakened condition, he traveled to Paris to view it in its new home at the Louvre. On December 3, 1919, the seventy-nine-year-old painter died at Les Collettes in Cagnes-sur-Mer, putting down his paint brush for the last time only hours before his death.

If you enjoy the works of Pierre-Auguste Renoir

If you enjoy the works of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, you may also want to check out the following:

The paintings of Impressionists such as Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille.

Although usually considered as one of the inner group of the French Impressionists, Renoir was in important ways atypical. Like the other painters, he portrayed (at first glance) the life of the times, but actually what he presented were young men and women in modern clothes acting as though they were in an arcadia devoid of the stresses of the day. In his evocation of a never-never land, he is as close, in spirit, to the rococo painters of the eighteenth century as he is to the Impressionists. Unlike the other Impressionists, Renoir makes little use of open spaces, sometimes expanding or contracting to convey the tensions of modern life. Renoir is perhaps best known for his paintings of figures rather than landscapes, unlike the other Impressionists. Although Renoir's works are sometimes criticized for not being serious enough, the delicacy of his brushwork and his love of the human figure make the paintings irresistibly warm, lively, and undeniably appealing.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Adriani, Gotz, Renoir, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1999.

Bailey, Colin, Renoir's Portraits: Impressions of an Age, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1998.

Copplestone, Trewin, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gramercy, 1998.

Cros, Philippe, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vilo International, 2003.

Distel, Anne, Renoir: A Sensuous Vision, translated by Lory Frankel, H. N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1995.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Feist, Peter H., Renoir: A Dream of Harmony, Evergreen, 1996.

Gaunt, William, Renoir, 3rd edition, Phaidon (Oxford, England), 1982.

Hansen, Lawrence, Renoir: The Man, the Painter, andHis World, Beekman, 1972.

House, John, Pierre-Auguste Renoir: La Promenade, J. Paul Getty Trust Publications, 1998.

International Dictionary of Art and Artists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1990.

Joannides, Paul, Renoir: Life and Works, Sourcebooks, 2000.

Monneret, Sophie, Renoir, translated by Emily Read, Holt (New York, NY), 1990.

Neret, Giles, Auguste Renoir, 1841-1919, the Painter ofHappiness, Taschen, 2001.

Raboff, Ernest Lloyd, Pierre-August Renoir, Harper (New York, NY), 1988.

Renoir, Auguste, Renoir by Renoir, edited by Rachel Barnes, Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.

Renoir, Jean, Renoir: My Father, translated by Randolph and Dorothy Weaver, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1962, reprinted, New York Review of Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Sagner-Duchting, Karin, Renoir, Paris and the BelleEpoque, Prestel, 1996.

Vollard, Ambroise, Renoir: An Intimate Record, translated by Harold L. Van Doren and Randolph T. Weaver, Knopf (New York, NY), 1925, reprinted, Dover Publications (Mineola, NY), 1990.

White, Barbara Ehrlich, Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters, H. M. Abrams (New York, NY), 1988.

ONLINE, (July 14, 2004), "Pierre-Auguste Renoir."

WebMuseum, (July 13, 2004), "Pierre Auguste Renoir.", (July 13, 2004), "Pierre August Renoir: The Delicate Portraitist."*

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