Pierre-Auguste Renoir Biography1841-1919
French Impressionist Painter
The art of Renoir
Renoir's paintings show vibrant light and color, and harmony of lines. Unlike many impressionists who focused on landscapes, he painted not only landscapes, but people in intimate and candid compositions - sometimes applying paint with a palette knife rather than a brush. Characteristic of impressionism style, Renoir painted not the details of a scene, but instead his figures softly fuse with one another and the surroundings. In his late 1880s paintings the figures and scenery look more distinct from one another, but the paintings of his final years again display the softness.
His initial paintings show the influence of the artistry of Eugène Delacroix, and of his friend Claude Monet with whom he developed the impressionist style. The influence of Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet and Camille Corot is also seen in his work.
In the late 1860s, obsessed with painting light and water, he and Monet discovered that the color of shadows is not brown or black, but the reflected color of the objects surrounding them.
One of the best known impressionist works is Renoir's 1876 Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Le Bal au Moulin de la Galette), which depicts an open-air scene, jammed with people, of a popular dance garden on the Butte Montmartre close to where he lived.
A prolific painter, he made several thousand paintings.
The warm sensuality of Renoir's painting made his work some the best known and frequently reproduced work in the history of art.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France, the child of a working class family. As a boy, he worked in a porcelain factory where his drawing talent led to him painting designs on china. He worked painting hangings for overseas missionaries, and painting on fans before he enrolled in art school. During those years, he often visited the Louvre to study the French master painters.
In 1862 he began studying art under Charles Gleyre in Paris. There he met Alfred Sisley, Frederic Bazille and Claude Monet. At times during the 1860s, he did not have enough money to buy paints.
Although Renoir first exhibited paintings in 1864, recognition did not come for another 10 years due, in part, to the turmoil of the Franco-Prussian War.
During the Paris Commune in 1871, while he painted by the Seine River, a Commune group thought he was spying and they were about to throw him in the river when a Commune leader, Raoul Rigault, recognized Renoir as the man who protected him on an earlier occasion.
In the mid-1870s, he experienced his first acclaim his work hung in the first impressionist exhibition (1874).
While living and working in Montmartre, Renoir engaged in an affair with his model, Suzanne Valadon, who became one of the leading female artists of the day. Later, he married Aline Victorine Charigot, and they had three sons, one of whom, Jean Renoir, became a filmmaker. After marrying his work changed. He became as interested in painting people as he was in painting landscapes.
In 1881 he traveled to Algeria, a country he associated with Eugène Delacroix, then to Madrid, Spain to see the work of Diego Velázquez, also to Italy to see Titian's masterpieces in Florence, and the paintings of Raphael in Rome. On January 15, 1882 Renoir met composer Richard Wagner at his home in Palermo, Sicily. Renoir painted Wagner's portrait in just 35 minutes.
Around 1892, Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis. In 1907, he moved to the warmer climate of "Les Collettes," a farm at Cagnes-sur-Mer, close to the Mediterranean coast. Renoir painted even during the last 20 years of his life when rheumatoid arthritis severely hampered his movement, and he was wheelchair-bound. He developed progressive deformities in his hands and ankylosis of his right shoulder, requiring him to adapt his painting technique. In the advanced stages of his arthritis, he painted by strapping a brush to his arm, and created sculptures by directing an assistant who worked the clay. Renoir also utilized a moving canvas or picture roll to facilitate painting large works with his limited joint mobility.
In 1919, Renoir visited the Louvre to see his paintings hanging with the old masters.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, on December 3, 1919.
"On the Terrace", Oil on Canvas (1881), Art Institute of Chicago. Two of Renoir's paintings have sold for more than $70 million. Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre sold for $78.1 million in 1990.