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Renoir - A Brief Biography

Updated on February 21, 2016
Self Portrait
Self Portrait | Source


Pierre-Auguste Renoir dedicated his life to painting. He was one of the founding members of the Impressionism movement in the 1870s. The impressionists broke the rules of traditional painting, working at locations other than the studio, and depictied vivid color and movement in their works. Renoir painted several thousand pieces and later became one of the most famous Impressionist painters of the early 20th century. He is best known for his intimate domestic works depicting Parisian life, typical of the Impressionists' representation of modern everyday scenes and people.

Les Canotiers à Chatou
Les Canotiers à Chatou | Source
Nu barbotant
Nu barbotant | Source
Seating girl
Seating girl | Source

Early Years

Renoir was born in Limoges, France on February 25, 1841, the sixth child of his clothier parents. Around 1845, the family moved to Paris and lived near the Louvre, where Renoir often went to examine the handiwork of the French masters. Renoir attended Catholic school and became a porcelain painter's apprentice, where he was chosen to paint designs on china. He took drawing classes, and in 1860 he began copying some of the works in the Louvre. Further pursuing his passion for art, in 1862 Renoir enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts art school and became a student of Charles Gleyre. There he met Bazille, Sisley, and Monet. He and his friends often painted in plein air the forest of Fountainebleau.

Although he painted still life and landscape subject matter, Renoir was attracted to female sensuality, had an eye for beauty, and favored figure painting and portraiture. Renoir's fondness for portrait work charmed many patrons who were open to his new ideas. Renoir's style captured the shifting effect of light, color, and shadow. He used small strokes, vibrant, saturated colors and different feathery brushstrokes in his paintings. His paintings convey warmth, beauty, and luminosity.

Reclining Nude
Reclining Nude | Source
In the Garden
In the Garden | Source
Two Young Girls at the Piano
Two Young Girls at the Piano | Source

Career and Life

In 1864, Renoir was accepted into the Paris Salon exhibit, but although he was making a name for himself, his early years as a painter were difficult. Sometimes he had no money to buy supplies and the Salon rejected many of his works. He often shared homes and studios with his three friends, Bazille, Sisley, and Monet.

Around 1867, Renoir met a seamstress named Lise Trehot who became his model and lover. A few years later, Renoir was drafted into the army, but was never involved in battle. Unfortunately, his friend Bazille was killed in action.

Renoir was back in Paris by 1871. After persistent rejections by the Salon, Renoir and his contemporaries decided to start their own exhibit as a response, distancing themselves from the limitations of the Salon and its jury. In April 1874, Renoir, Monet, and others showed their works in the first ever Impressionist exhibition, named so because their paintings looked like impressions instead of finished pieces. Renoir sold a few of his works there and attracted the attention of Victor Chocquet, an art collector. The time period of rejection by the Salon and the rise of individually held exhibits is touted by many historians to be the beginning of Modern Art.

In the 1880's, as his status and commission money grew, he was able to fund trips to Italy, Algeria, Madrid, and the south of France, where he painted some of his most well-known works.

In 1890, Renoir married his girlfriend Aline Charigot, who posed as a model for several of his paintings. Together, they had three sons, Pierre, Jean, and Claude. Pierre later became a stage and film actor and Jean pursued filmmaking.

The Luncheon of the Boating Party
The Luncheon of the Boating Party | Source
The Dancer
The Dancer | Source

Painting Style

In the 1870s, Renoir's Impressionism style reached its apex. During the 1880s he realized the need for underlying structure and began to separate himself from the impressionists. In 1879 he stopped exhibiting with them; he thought that his style was becoming too formless and loose.

After travelling to Italy in 1881, he was inspired by the art of Raphael and traded Impressionism for his "dry period", which expressed the power of High Renaissance art. This style was more classical and characterized by an emphasis on detail, line, solid form, and composition.

After an exhibit of his work in New York in 1886, Renoir, and Impressionism in general, gained popularity in America.

In the 1890s, Renoir's style changed again. He began using delicate thin brush strokes, more fluidity, imprecise outlines, and transparency effects in what has been called his "pearly" period.

During his late career, Renoir's style was rich with warm colors and thick brush strokes. For the remainder of his life, his works were more direct and spontaneous.

Doges' Palace
Doges' Palace | Source

Older Years

In 1907, Renoir bought a beautiful home in Cagnes on the Riviera. He continued to paint in his garden studio, despite his swollen joints, weakness, right shoulder ankylosis (stiffness and rigidity due to fusion of the bones) and crippled arms and legs brought on by progressive rheumatoid arthritis. His hands became withered and curled inwards so he began to rely on assistants while working. Although he became physically limited, he continued painting through the pain, even doing sculpture work through the hands of his assistants.

In 1919, four years after the death of his wife, Aline, Renoir was able to see his own works hanging at the Louvre. After receiving this honor, Renoir died of a heart attack in early December of the same year and was buried next to his wife in France. He was 78 at the time of his death. His estate was left to his three sons.

Renoir's combined style of modern and classic inspired such legends as Picasso and Matisse. The Impressionist movement paved the way for Neo-impressionism, Fauvism, Post-Impressionism, and Cubism.

Footage of Renoir Painting at Home

The video shown above was taken in 1915 by Sacha Guitry, who can be seen sitting down to speak with Renoir. At the time, Renoir was 74 years old and wheelchair bound. He was assisted by his son Claude, who can be seen placing the brush into Renoir's diseased hands.

When asked by a fellow painter why he continued to paint despite his pain, Renoir is said to have replied "The pain passes, but the beauty remains."

Garden Scene in Britanny
Garden Scene in Britanny | Source
Umbrellas | Source
Pink and Blue - The Cahen d'Anvers Girls
Pink and Blue - The Cahen d'Anvers Girls | Source


Renoir's early nudes were influenced by the earth tones and sensual figures of painter Gustave Courbet. He also admired and was influenced by the works of Corot, Delacroix, Degas, Boucher, and Manet.

Facts About Renoir

  • Two of his older siblings died as infants.
  • Renoir's art career was launched and strengthened by wealthy patrons. Through contact with them, he acquired several well received art commissions.
  • He suffered from arthritis for about 30 years, his first bout of it occurring in 1888.
  • He was mistaken for a spy during the Paris Commune in 1871 during one of his many painting outings near the Seine River.
  • He contracted pneumonia in 1882 which caused permanent damage to his respiratory system.
  • Once his right arm became paralyzed in 1912 due to arthritis, Renoir painted with a brush strapped to his wrist.
  • He inspired such greats as Matisse and Picasso.
  • Monet, a friend of Renoir, was also a founder of Impressionism.
  • Renoir achieved recognition earlier than his artist friends did.
  • In 2015 a protest group, which began on Instagram, declared that "Renoir sucks at painting" and their mission is to have his works removed from museums.

Do you believe that Renoir's works still provide inspiration for modern day art?

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