Pierre Auguste Renoir, a founding member of the Impressionist movement was born in 1841 in south-west France. He started out working in a porcelain factory painting designs on fine china and visiting Louvre as a copyist to study masterworks.
In 1862, he moved to study at Ecole des Beaux-Arts after which he was under the mentorship of Charles Gleyre, following his ambitions to be a professional painter. There, he met Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Frédéric Bazille, with whom he often painted in the forests of Fontainebleau and maintained a long friendship.
Pierre Auguste Renoir who was known for his paintings of Parisian modernity and portraits painted alongside Monet at La Grenouillere in 1869. Their aligned attentiveness towards capturing reflected light through rippling water led them to depict similar scenes from different vantages.
While Monet’s painting focused on the scenery and nature, Renoir focused on the details of the social scenes, presenting people’s faces and bodies with more detail. The ripples in Renoir’s paintings are more patchy and relaxed compared to Monets who used repetitive formal strokes that blended in with other colours. They shared ideas and techniques that developed the evolving Impressionist style, focusing on the usage of contrasting light and dark shades to capture the ephemerality of nature.
After several rejections by the Paris Salon, Renoir joined Monet in establishing their own independent artists’ society called the Impressionists in 1874. His quick, vibrant brushstrokes captured modern Parisian lifestyles, best seen in Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Oil on canvas) where Renoir has effectively translated varying light intensities. This spontaneous work represented the fluidity and movement of fleeting time and light and gathered appreciation for its innovative style and format.
His broad, loose brush strokes and sketchlike techniques are seen in paintings such as Sentier Dans le Bois and L’ombrelle which focus on fleeting sensations in nature, evocative of the gentle breeze and changing sunlight.
In the latter, Renoir painted a Parisienne, coalescing her figure with nature in an outdoor setting. An archetypal Impressionist signature, Renoir continued to paint figures in modern urban settings and with his growing reputation, became a famous portrait painter.
His famous portraits of Jeanne Samary were depicted in eight oils and four pastels between 1877 and 1880. His modernist informality and classical compositional influence were on show with his painting, Madame Georges Charpentier and her Children, which was an exhibit at the Salon and attracted patrons from wealthy societies.
He met the Parisian elite, one of them being Paul Berard and often painted his children. While at his country house in Wargemont, he experimented with still-life (Still Life with Peaches,1881) and seascapes (View of the Seacoast near Wargemont in Normandy, 1880).
With Renoir’s strength in capturing evanescent moments full of attractive people and charming atmosphere, his painting exudes a freshness that cannot be entirely explained. His aesthetic lies in capturing sensual, pleasant, intimate moments and he brings them out with his splendid compositional charm. His enquiry into traditional notions and vivid characteristics bridged gaps creating modern visual examples that are thoughtful and involved.
Auguste Renoir, as believed, only used five colours and was initially really inspired by the colourism of Eugene Delacroix and Camille Corot. Later in the 1880s, he followed Delacroix’s footsteps and travelled to Algeria, Madrid and Italy where he studied paintings from the Renaissance period by Velazquez, Raphael and Titian. He visited Pompeii, Sicily and returned to France with an evolved style.
Wrung out by Impressionism and inspired by the classical traditions, he started adopting a linear style, working more in a studio and focusing on mythology and female form. He also applied a more disciplined technique, which emphasised the outlines of figures. This period is known as the “Ingres period”. Paintings like Reclining Nude and Les Grandes Baigneuses showcase figures more sculptural with backgrounds that are indistinct blurry landscapes. Renoir, in these years, developed his style which amalgamated his bright, optimistic aesthetic with bold contrasting lines.
By the end of the 1880s, Renoir again shifted away from classicism and turned back to thin brushstrokes and softer outlines. He attended to pastoral nudes and domestic scenes with a sketchy approach.
A few examples from this period include Two Girls at the Piano and Coco au Ruban rose. Despite suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis in his old age, he experimented with different media, casting almost 15 sculptures with the help of a studio assistant.
He also started using in his paintings, stronger and warmer tonalities yet maintained an informal aesthetic. The use of pleasurable lush sceneries attested to his love for Renaissance art. In the 1900’s he painted several paintings that exuded ideas of femininity, motherhood and sensuality like Gabrielle au Miroir and Femme nue couchée, Gabrielle.
Pierre Renoir worked till his death in 1919, producing thousands of paintings throughout his career. Posthumously, his works are displayed at Paris’ Musée d’Orsay; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.; and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Two of his paintings have been sold for more than $70 million and Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre was sold for 78.1 million in 1990.
His expansive collection of 181 paintings resides at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and just before his death, Renoir visited the Louvre to see his work displayed with the Master he looked up to. His works had always been a celebration of things that are pleasant, cheerful and pretty in life yet maintaining a mature, structured composition.
He was the source of inspiration for the next generation of artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Renoir was prolific, experimental, always working without limitations and appreciating the changes he went through, throughout his career. As he once said, “One must from time to time attempt things that are beyond one’s capacity.”