Impressionist Artists: Pierre-Auguste Renoir - 5 Interesting Facts
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born on 25th February 1841 in Limoges in South-West France to a working class family. His father was a taylor and moved the family to Paris in 1845, where Renoir was brought up. At age thirteen, Renoir was working in a porcelain factory where his natural artistic talents led to him being given a job painting designs onto the china. He was 49 before he married Aline Charigot with whom he already had one child, Pierre, and they had another two sons, Jean and Claude. Renoir died on the 3rd December 1919 in the village of Cagnes-sur-mer in the Cote d’Azur.
Dance at Bougival by Pierre Auguste Renoir
The Great Bathers (The Nymphs) by Pierre Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir - 5 Interesting Facts
1. Renoir met Claude Monet when they were both students under the Master Charles Gleyre in 1862. They lived together for a time in 1867 and they spent a lot of time painting together along with their friend Bazille. Renoir and Monet frequently visited ‘La Grenouillere’ and each produced three almost identical paintings, no doubt they were standing next to each other. Compare Renoir and Monet’s versions of the paintings. Renoir’s painting seems more serene and bright, with a little more detail whereas Monet’s painting concentrates more on the contrast between light and shadow. He gives more detail of the light on the water but less of the people and surroundings. On the whole, while Monet’s great interest was the effect of light on a subject, Renoir was more interested in people themselves.
2. Renoir broke his right arm after falling from a bike and for a time had to paint with his left. Many people believe that it was as a result of this that later in his life he developed severe rheumatoid arthritis and was confined to a wheelchair. After 1898 he was completely paralysed in his right arm, the only way he could paint was to have a paint brush strapped to his hand. From this time up to his death in 1919 Pierre-Auguste Renoir spent a lot of time on one large scale composition ‘The Great Bathers (The Nymphs)’. To me this painting feels both sickly sweet and fairly grotesque at the same time. Another great project of his later years, odd since he couldn’t move his arms, was sculpturing. He had an assistant who would do the physical work for him, and he would just tell them what they needed to do.
Lise with a Parasol by Pierre Auguste Renoir
The Skiff (La Yole) by Pierre Auguste Renoir
Young Girls At A Piano by Pierre Auguste Renoir
3. Renoir’s art always seems to be described as ‘pretty’ or ‘pleasant’ or with similar terminology, and he appears to only paint the things that appeal to him in a scene, ignoring the less attractive or ugly details. While his paintings are no doubt strongly Impressionist, he does differ in his outlook to many of the others. Often the Impressionist artists are described as being realist; interested in what is actually there, especially in terms of light, but it is often claimed that Renoir paints what he wants to see, or at least gives the viewer a sense of something that is not really there. This is true in terms of evoking feelings and grasping a general mood of a painting, as well as the inclusion or exclusion of physical things.
4. Of all the Impressionist artists, it is Pierre Auguste Renoir who is most interested in painting humans and studying the portrayal of human emotions. Very often you can sense or feel an emotion in a scene he’s captured without being able to pinpoint where on the canvas this emotion comes from. Consider the painting ‘Dance at Bougival’ (see above) where you can feel the romance between the dancers despite being unable to see the man’s eyes. Generally, he seems to prefer painting female subjects and spent a period of time painting female nudes. One model in particular, Lise Trehot, who was his lover at the time, appears in a large number of his paintings and it was his painting of her that was accepted to the Salon in 1867.
5. In the early 1880s Renoir had something of an identity crisis; fearing that he had been so swept up in Impressionism he had forgotten how to paint properly. To rectify this he travelled to Italy, leaving Impressionism behind for the classical art of the Renaissance painters like Raphael and Titian. The trip only cemented his dissatisfaction in Impressionism and on his return he set about creating paintings with more solid definition and a specific focus. Compare ‘The Skiff (La Yole)’ painted in 1875 with ‘Young Girls at the Piano’ painted in 1892. ‘The Skiff’ has a subject, the people in the boat, but the boat isn’t the main focus of the painting, it’s not central to it, like the painting would fall apart if they weren’t there. In ‘Young Girls at the Piano’ the girls are very much the focus, they are detailed and defined, and if they weren’t there it would be a painting of nothing.