Les grandes baigneuses
Les Grandes baigneuses-1887 Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA
DEBUSSY - Arabesques N°2 (1891)

In 1855, Renoir's father, a modest tailor from Limoges established in Paris since 1845, puts his 14 years old son Auguste at work in a porcelain factory, in the "Rue du Temple" street, where the adolescent boy is initiated with painting on plates.

The introduction of a machine will put an end to this experience and several others will follow, of which painting of church hangings for overseas missionaries and painting of fans.

Throughout these early years, Renoir made frequent visits at lunch time to the Louvre, where he studied the art of former French masters, particularly those of the 18th century Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, and Jean Honoré Fragonard. His deep respect for these artists informed his own painting throughout his career.

Eight years later Renoir had enough money to enter in April 1862 the School of Fine Arts. Parallel to the courses of the School, he also attends the private Workshop of Charles Gleyre where he will become friendly with his school-fellows Alfred Sisley , Frederic Bazille and Claude Monet.

Portrait of Pierre Auguste Renoir

by by Frederic BAZILLE
Museum of Fine Arts



With his friends, in particular Bazille and Monet, Renoir will often work outdoor in the forest of Fontainebleau sharing their research on natural light painting. His own artistic research will then cover a broad range, for he is less certain than other painters of the direction he should take, being held by the necessity of selling paintings to earn a living and by his desire of finding his own place on the Parisian scene.

Alfred Sisley and his wife
Wallraf-Richartz Museum
Cologne, Germany

In addition to beautiful paintings of city views, as the views of Paris which he paints with Monet in spring 1867 (" The Pont des Arts"), and landscapes, his artistic matter would also express in many genre paintings, portraits in the open air, like "Alfred Sisley and his wife ", which appeal to the spectator by their luminosity and their expressiveness. From 1864 on, he would exhibit or try to exhibit his works at the official Salon.

Accepted in 1864, refused in spite of the intervention of Corot in 1866, he did not have a better chance the following year, with a "Diane Chasseresse " in which one can see the influence that Courbet exerced on his production at that time.

He can show his "Lise with the parasol" (1867) at the Salon of 1868, once again a painting influenced by Courbet.

Renoir will not adopt a personal mode of pictorial representation until the summer of 1869, when he worked with Monet at the Grenouillère, while painting the animation of this bathing spot for Parisian middle-class people with fast and vigorous brushstrokes of pure color, very simplified, barely outlined characters, mobile reflections of light rendered in a new way. The whole painting gives off an "impression" rather than any precise details.

Soon after, the Franco-Prussian war brought the Renoir/Monet period of intense creativity to an end as Renoir was called up for military service in 1870. Fortuitously, he was assigned the task of training cavalry horses in the Pyrenees - far from the battle front. Regrettably, his friend Frederic Bazille was killed in the war.

However, if Renoir, with "The Grenouillère" and some other 1869 and 1870 works, affirms the essential components of the Impressionist painting, in particular the division of tones, his deliberate research of an increased clearness using a light layer of painting that appears since 1872 will characterize the execution of the majority of his works traditionally attached to his Impressionist period : "The theater box " (1874), "Path winding through the high grass " (1875), "Dance at the Moulin de la Galette" (1876), "The swing" (1876), "Portrait of Jeanne Samary" (1877), "Oarsmen at Chatou" (1879) .


This very bright clearness was obtained by the use of a more or less thick but always resinous paste, i.e., contrary to the paste of Monet, very little diluted in the spirits of turpentine, therefore little degreased.

The theater box
Courtauld Institute Galleries

The sharp admiration that Renoir devoted to Delacroix since 1872, has perhaps to do with this evolution which, after the poorly rewarding Impressionist exhibitions of 1874, 1876 and 1877 in which he took part, contributed to the great success that he gained at the Salon of 1879 with "Mrs Charpentier and her children" (1878).

That year 1879, he gave up exhibiting with his Impressionist friends and the taste of George Charpentier, the very well-known editor of Zola, Maupassant and Daudet, was not without working in favour of the art of Renoir by the amateurs of portraits.

Pissarro then wrote : "Renoir has a great success with the Salon. I believe that he is launched, good for him, misery is so hard!".

During these years of great "misery", Renoir will have produced many fabulous Impressionist paintings, today masterpieces known throughout the world.

The Luncheon of the Boating Party
The Phillips Collection
Washington DC

In 1880, he meets a young milliner, Aline Charigot, who works not far from his workshop. She is twenty years old, and will pose for him in many paintings. They will get married in 1890, five years after the birth of Pierre, and will rear three children, Pierre, Jean (the film maker) and Claude.

Renoir is then recognized and appreciated, he can now enjoy life. Aline will pose for him for the first time in: "Oarsmen at Chatou" (1879), then with the other friends of Renoir in one of his major paintings that he will complete in 1881 "The luncheon of the boating party" (Aline is the young woman sitting on the left, and opposite to her is the painter Gustave Caillebotte).

THE "DRY" PERIOD (1883-1890)

In 1881, thanks to the sale of his paintings, for the first time in his lifetime, Renoir can afford leaving Paris in spring for a trip towards the south, on the footsteps of Delacroix, first to Algeria, then, during fall and winter, to Italy, where he discovers the florentin Masters, Raphaël and frescos of Pompéi, finally at "The Estaque", close to Marseilles, where he paints with Cézanne with more violent colours, and returns to drawing technique.

Renoir get even more detachment with regard to Impressionism: "About 1883, a rupture occurred in my work. I had gone until the end of Impressionism and I arrived at this point that I did no longer master how to paint and draw. In a word, I was in a dead end "(Renoir quoted by Vollard, in" Renoir ", Paris, 1920).

From this moment, Renoir doubts and questions his work. He moves away more and more from Impressionism, contours of his characters become more precise. He draws the forms with more rigour, the colors are made colder.

The transition will be progressive since Renoir is in perpetual search for an absolute pictorial art. At of the end of 1881, he writes to Durand-Ruel : "I am still in the disease of research. I am not content and I erase, I still erase....".

His new manner, known as the "dry" or "Ingres" period", is first characterized by a more precise drawing and flat tints as in "The Umbrellas" (1882-1884) or "Dance in the city" (1883), then by a net contour, a smooth matter and a uniform distribution of light as in "The Large Bathers" (1884-1887).

This painting measures 115 X 170 cm, the principal models are Aline Charigot, the brown one, and Suzanne Valadon, the blonde.

This work associates in a strange way cheerfulness of an instant where girls of street behave in a relaxed way and a stylized, "traditional" composition. The figures do not merge any more into the landscape, but appear definitely dissociated.

Les grandes baigneuses
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia, USA

1883: Personal exhibition organized by Durand-Ruel, boulevard of the Madeleine. In December, he travels with Monet from Marseilles to Genoa.

1884: He undertakes "The large bathers ".

1885: Birth of his son Pierre, Renoir paints " Aline nursing her son ".

1888: Great success of the international exhibition of the Impressionists in New York, organized by Durand-Ruel, 38 paintings and pastels of Renoir are presented.

1889: He turns over to Cézanne

THE "PEARLY" PERIOD (1890-1897)

In 1890 Renoir marries Aline Charigot.

Criticized, misunderstood, Renoir little by little will leave his "dry" period. Without returning to a blow of purely Impressionist style, he will inflect the draw, give up the rigour while preserving subjects modelling . Delicacy, form, color, light and sensuality are the master words of this new period.

Girls at the piano
Private collection

Giving up linear style, Renoir adopts a more flexible and consistent construction, with more fluidity and effects of transparency. It is what one called the "pearly" period .

This evolution of Renoir who approaches fifty is also due to the following fact: "He indeed realized, at that time, that his early paintings cracked and that the tone deteriorated. He thus supervised his mixtures, which he reduced, like Rubens, at a minimum, and used a thin and single layer "(Andre Lhote).

"The Girls at the piano " (1892), first painting of the artist bought by French State, is a famous work of this period.

The interest of the public is finally immense. After 1897 and until the end of his life, Renoir came to an impulsive, direct manner, without final improvements, to which will be attached innumerable figures of gorgeous and naked women ("Bather drying her leg ", 1905), often painted in only one meeting in colors with dominant ochre-red.

After a bicycle accident where he broke his arm in 1897, Renoir will suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, and was constrained, at the beginning of the century, to seek the climate of the South. He established first at Grasse (1900), then in Le Cannet (1902), then in Cagnes (1903), where he was struck, in January 1912, of a paralysis of his legs and arms. Operated in August of the same year, he continued to paint, his brush attached to his hand, during the last seven years of his life.

1891: He remains in Provence then at Berthe Morisot in Mésy.

1892: He travels to Spain with Gallimard, and admires Velasquez. With the retrospective in Durand-Ruel, 110 works are exposed.

1893: He travels to Pont-Aven in Brittany.

1894: Birth of his son Jean, he lives in the "Château des Brouillards" in Montmartre. A crisis of rheumatisms prevents him from travelling. He paints " Jean playing with Gabrielle ".

1895: Renoir transforms his style which will lead him to a final blooming while painting more and more in volume, towards a more sculptural figure .

1896: He travels in Bayreuth. Exhibition at Durand-Ruel Gallery. "Mr Caillebotte's Children, the family of the artist".

1897: Renoir buys a house at Essoyes, in Aube region where he will spend the summer months - "The asleep bather".

1898: He travels to Holland, to Amsterdam where he admires Rembrandt. First acute crisis of rheumatoid arthritis.

1899: He spends winter to rest in the South at Cagnes-sur-mer .

1900: He remains in Grasse and paints " Nude woman in the open air ".

1901: Birth of his son Claude , known as "Coco" whom Renoir often takes as a model.

1902: Renoir settles in Le Cannet, new crises of rheumatisms " The judgement of Pâris, Jean as a white Pierrot ".

1903: He spends winter in Cagnes and summer in Essoyes.

1904: From now on, the years are marked by a more or less fast evolution of his disease. He continues to paint with much courage some " Bathers ".

1907: He buys the ground "Les Collettes" in Cagnes, where he will have his house built, surrounded by hundred-year-old olive-trees " The writing lesson of Coco".

1908: Renoir carves a "Portrait of Coco and a bust of dancer ".

1910: He travels to Munich "The caryatids, dancers with the tambourine and the castanets" .

1912: Aggravation of its health. Strips on his paralysed fingers enable him to hold his brush. In spite of that, his work remains of great quality " Portrait of Madam de Galea ".

1913: The dealer Amboise Vollard introduces Richard Guino to him to allow him to conclude his projects of sculpture. A true communion of spirit is established between the two artists, Renoir finds back all his creativity, served by the talent and sensitivity of Guino. A first work is created: " Small Venus upright ".

1914: Declaration of war of Germany to France. His sons Pierre and Jean are wounded in the combat. To keep the moral , Renoir paints and carves with Guino. " The judgement of Pâris ".

1915: Mrs Renoir died. In her homage he paints " A bunch of roses ". To forget his misfortune and suffering, Renoir, supported by Guino, get involved in great sculptures " large Venus Victrix, Maternity, the Pâris shepherd" .

1916-1918: New sculptures "' The large Washerwoman, Bust of Mrs Renoir, The blacksmith, Portrait of Cézanne" .

1919: Visit of Renoir to the Louvre where his painting " Mrs Charpentier " is exhibited. He dies in Cagnes-sur-mer on December 3.

Renoir left a considerable work, necessarily unequal, would it only be because of his prolific character: more than 4 000 paintings , that is to say a number higher than the works of Manet, Cézanne and Degas joined together.

Path winding through the high grass
about 1875
Musée d'Orsay, Paris