Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841 - 1919)
Pierre Auguste Renoir was born on February 25, 1841 in Limoges, France. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Paris. Because he showed a remarkable talent for drawing, Renoir became an apprentice in a porcelain factory, where he painted the picture of the queen on plates. Later, after the factory had gone out of business, he worked for his older brother, decorating fans. Throughout these early years Renoir made frequent visits to the Louvre, where he studied the art of earlier 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.
In 1862 Renoir decided to study painting seriously and entered the Atelier Gleyre, where he met Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Jean Frédéric Bazille. During the next 6 years Renoir's art showed the influence of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, the two most innovative painters of the 1850s and 1860s. The 1860s were difficult years for Renoir. At times he was too poor to buy paints or canvas, and the Salons of 1866 and 1867 rejected his works. He continued to develop his work and to study the paintings of his contemporaries--not only Courbet and Manet, but Camille Corot and Eugène Delacroix as well.
In 1874 Renoir participated in the first impressionist exhibition. Although the impressionist exhibitions were the targets of much public ridicule during the 1870s, Renoir's patronage gradually increased during the decade. He became a friend of Caillebotte, one of the first patrons of the impressionists, and he was also backed by the art dealer Durand-Ruel and by collectors like Victor Choquet, the Charpentiers, and the Daidets. The artist's connection with these individuals is documented by a number of handsome portraits.
In the 1870s Renoir also produced some of his most celebrated impressionist genre scenes. These works embody his most basic attitudes about art and life. They show men and women together, openly and casually enjoying a society diffused with warm, radiant sunlight. Figures blend softly into one another and into their surrounding space.
During the 1880s Renoir gradually separated himself from the impressionists, largely because he became dissatisfied with the direction the new style was taking in his own hands. He felt that his style was becoming too loose, that forms were losing their distinctiveness and sense of mass. As a result, he looked to the past for a fresh inspiration. In 1881 he traveled to Italy and was particularly impressed by the art of Raphael. During the next six years Renoir's paintings became increasingly dry: he began to draw in a tight, classical manner, carefully outlining his figures in an effort to give them plastic clarity.
By the end of the 1880s Renoir had passed through his dry period. His late work is truly extraordinary: a glorious outpouring of monumental nude figures, beautiful young girls, and lush landscapes. In many ways, the generosity of feeling in these paintings expands upon the achievements of his great work in the 1870s.
Renoir's health declined severely in his later years. In 1903 he suffered his first attack of rheumatoid arthritis and settled for the winter at Cagnes-sur-Mer. By this time he faced no financial problems, but the arthritis made painting painful and often impossible. Nevertheless, he continued to work, at times with a brush tied to his crippled hand. He also took up sculpture ordering two boys who acted as his hands. Renoir died at Cagnes-sur-Mer on December 3, 1919, but his death was preceded by an experience of supreme triumph: the state had purchased his portrait - Madame Georges Charpentier (1877), and he traveled to Paris in August to see it hanging in the Louvre.
In 1869 Renoir and Monet worked together at La Grenouillère, a bathing spot on the Seine. Both artists became obsessed with painting light and water. This was a decisive moment in the development of impressionism, for it was there that Renoir and Monet made their discovery that shadows are not brown or black but are colored by their surroundings, and that the 'local colours' of an object is modified by the light in which it is seen, by reflections from other objects and by contrast with juxtaposed colours.
His masterpiece - Opera Box (1874), which was shown in the first impressionist exhibition, shows the artist's penchant for rich and freely handled figurative expression. The Swing and the Moulin de la Galette (both 1876) are true examples of his radiant works of the 1870s. Here, he creates worlds that are pleasurable, sensuous, and generously endowed with human feeling. During the painting of his masterpiece - the luncheon of the boating party (1880-81), he met the woman who he eventually married, while she was acting as one of the models for this scene on the terrace of La Grenouillère.