Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Born: February 25, 1841
Biography of Pierre Auguste Renoir
Pierre Auguste Renoir was one of the greatest of the painters affected by Impressionism. He worked from the age of thirteen in a china factory and his early training as a painter on porcelain predisposed him towards the light palette of Impressionism.
In 1861, he spent some time in the teaching studio of the academician Gleyre, where he met Monet, Bazille, and Sisley. He also went to The Louvre often, and was particularly interested in Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard. All his life he was conscious of the need to study art in museums, and dissatisfied with the purely visual aspects of Impressionism. The main influence on his early career was Courbet, until about 1868, and during this time he used heavy impasto and rather dark colour. In 1868, he and Monet worked together on the Seine, and as a result of painting continually out-of-doors – and of Monet’s influence – his colour became lighter and higher in key, and his handling freer, the whole canvas being managed in patches of coloured light and shadow without any definite drawing. He exhibited in the first three Impressionist exhibitions, and then in the seventh.
After 1877, he was successful in getting some of his portraits into the Salon (e.g. Mme. Charpentier and her Children; 1878: New York Metropolitan Museum), and was unwilling to risk the market that this offered for the sake of the often disadvantageous advertisement provided by the group shows. In 1879 (and again in 1882), he visited North Africa, was in Guernsey in 1880, and made his first of several trips to Italy in the winter of 1881-82. He later travelled widely, visiting London, Holland, Spain, Germany, studying in museums, and he deeply admired Raphael and Velazquez – more even than Rubens, to whose art his own was so much indebted.
After his first Italian journey his drawing became much firmer, his Impressionism much less the spontaneous result of purely visual stimuli than the conscious use of colour to recreate nature and form, and this in turn involved departure from Monet’s form of Impressionism – direct painting before the object – by the adoption of a more elaborate technique, with preparatory drawings and successive sessions on the canvas while the figure and its setting were worked up: “Il faut meubler la toile,” was his way of putting it. Where his early works include portraits, landscapes, flowers and groups of figures in settings of cafe, dance-hall, boats, or riverside landscapes, his late works are mostly nudes, or near nudes. The warmth and tenderness of pink and pearly flesh entranced him and gave him full scope for his favourite colour schemes of pinks and reds, and the exploitation of a chosen colour-scheme is in itself an unimpressionist idea: “Ii faut avoir,” he said “le sentiment des fesses et des tetons.”
In 1906, he settled in Cagnes in the south of France, but he was already crippled with arthritis, which finally rendered him completely helpless, so that his last pictures were painted with brushes stuck between his twisted fingers. He also “made” a certain amount of sculpture – “dictated” rather, since the clay was worked by an assistant who added or removed on his instructions, to create rather Maillol-like figures of impressive simplicity and solidity. In his last years, he saw a good deal of Matisse, who lived nearby, and he was interested in and sympathetic to the ideas behind Fauvism.
He painted about 6,000 pictures. There is a large collection in Paris (Museum de l’Impressionnisme), and there are works in Berlin; Boston (Mus.); Budapest; Cambridge, Massachusetts (Fogg); Cardiff; Chicago; Cologne (Wallraf-Richartz); Essen; Glasgow; London (NG, Tate, Courtauld Inst.); Manchester; Ottawa; Rouen; São Paulo; Stockholm; Toronto; and Washington (NG, Phillips). America is particularly rich in Renoirs, since they were bought there when the artist was still unappreciated in Europe. Williamstown, Massachusetts has a particularly instructive contrast between nudes by Renoir and Bouguereau.