Our first Art History 101 Blog of 2024 is a birthday celebration! We’re honoring French painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir  just in time for his February 25th Birthday! 🎈

Wait. Who’s Pierre-Auguste Renoir? I’m glad you asked! Renoir was a French Impressionist painter whose eye for beauty made him one of the movement’s most popular artists. He is best known for his paintings of bustling Parisian modernity and leisure in the last three decades of the19th century. Though celebrated as a colorist with a keen eye for capturing the movement of light and shadow, Renoir started to explore Renaissance painting in the middle of his career, which led him to integrate more line and composition into his mature works and create some of his era’s most timeless work.

Pastimes Blog Post Art History Renoir

We hope you enjoy this brief history of this remarkable artist, courtesy of theartstory.com.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born into a working-class family in Limoges, a city in the central west region of France. Fittingly, Renoir’s first artistic job, during his teens, was as a painter in one of the town’s porcelain factories. The son of a tailor and a seamstress, Renoir had a steady hand and a talent for decorative effect, which earned him praise from his employers and brought him to the attention of a growing customer base, including a number of wealthy patrons for whom he painted picture hangings and decorations for fans and other luxury objects. These early successes fed his desire to leave the factory and pursue fine arts painting.

To compensate for the limited training he was receiving in Limoges, in 1860 Renoir began making frequent trips to visit the Louvre in Paris to study the work of the French Rococo masters Jean-Antoine Watteau, Jean-Honore Fragonard, and François Boucher, and the Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix. Though Delacroix and the Rococo painters worked nearly a century apart, Renoir recognized similarities in their soft, loose handling of paint, which showed individual brushstrokes, and their embrace of color and movement rather than the Classical clarity of carefully composed form.

One must from time to time attempt things that are beyond one's capacity. ― Pierre-Auguste Renoir Share on X

In 1862, Renoir began his formal training under Charles Gleyre, a Swiss-born academic painter who instructed a number of talented painters, among them Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille, three of Renoir’s future Impressionist colleagues with whom he became close friends upon entering Gleyre’s Paris studio.

During their training, Renoir and his new friends would venture into the scenic forest of Fontainebleau to engage in plein air painting. However, unlike Monet and Sisley, Renoir always maintained a penchant for the studio and for painting more traditional portraiture in the style of the 18th Century French masters he so admired.

During the summer of 1869, Renoir and Monet spent two months painting at La Grenouillère, a lakeside boating resort for the French middle class located just outside of Paris. The case can be made that Renoir and Monet sowed the seeds of Impressionism at La Grenouillere. It was here that both men began to use broad brushstrokes to capture momentary scenes with a sketch-like looseness of feel, deftly capturing the water’s natural movement and reflective effect on light.

Immediately following the brief but tumultuous Franco-Prussian War (in which Renoir fought) and the occupation of the French Commune in 1871, Renoir’s early success began to take a turn for the worse. Rejections from the Salon far outnumbered acceptances, due in no small part to the “unfinished” quality his newer work assumed. His fortunes reached a point where Renoir was faced with the choice of either paying models or buying paint. While others of his colleagues like Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro had ceased to do so, Renoir continued submitting work to the Salon up until 1873, holding on to the belief that acceptance was a necessary yardstick for success.

Following the 1873 Salon, in which the Impressionists’ canvases were largely panned, Renoir and his cohorts began planning an independent exhibition of their works, free from the aesthetic constraints of the Salon and its jury system. The first Impressionist group show was held on April 15, 1874. While Renoir sold few works as a result of the show, it brought him to the attention of the collector Victor Chocquet, whose portrait he would paint and who would become something of a financial savior during this period.

Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world. ― Pierre-Auguste Renoir Share on X

By the time of the fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1878, Renoir quietly abstained. He had discovered financial independence thanks to regular portrait commissions (which in turn led to further success in the Salon) and had become disenchanted with the ideology of spontaneity that he felt had consumed the group. Shortly after disassociating himself from the very group of artists he helped found, Renoir traveled to Italy for the first time, a trip enabled by a financial deal he had struck with the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. During this sojourn, he came of the opinion that Impressionism lacked the structural underpinnings that had produced the great art of the Renaissance masters like Raphael. As he wrote to the dealer Ambroise Vollard later in his life, “by the early 1880s, he felt that he had ‘reached the end of Impressionism, and could neither paint nor draw.'”

This was a motivation for Renoir to move away from the loose, incidental quality of Impressionism toward more classical ideas of draftsmanship, composition, and modeling. This shift had, to an extent, already begun: Renoir produced the iconic Luncheon of the Boating Party between 1880 and 1881, immediately before leaving France, and it shows an adjustment of his painterly techniques toward greater compositional unity.

Pastimes Blog Post Art History Renoir

“Luncheon of the Boating Party”

As the turn of the century approached, now married and with three sons (the last born in 1901), Renoir continued to produce work at an impressive rate, despite his continually failing health. An injury to his right arm from a bicycle accident had left him with severe arthritis, and rheumatism plagued his left eye. By 1910, he was mostly relegated to a wheelchair and with bandages around his hands, making painting a great challenge. The family purchased a home in Cagnes-sur-Mer in the south of France, which gave Renoir periodic relief from his pains with its dry and mild climate.

In the winter of 1919, Renoir suffered a heart attack at his home in Cagnes-sur-Mer. Shortly after, he passed away on December 3, 1919, with his sons by his side and several of his works hanging in the Louvre among the French masters he once went there to study.

It could be argued that Renoir and his colleague Monet are to Impressionism as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque are to Cubism: their experiments in painting together created an entirely modern visual idiom and marked off the artistic territory that the movement would grow to inhabit in the following decades.

He was also the first among his colleagues to recognize the cul-de-sac that Impressionism presented. Though Paul Cézanne is typically credited for the attempt “to make of Impressionism something solid and lasting like the art of the museums,” this crisis in the movement was first met head-on by Renoir. His well-documented reintroduction of composition, outline, and modeling into his painting never completely erased the radical reassessment of color he helped theorize alongside Monet. Ultimately, his combination of modernity and tradition was highly influential on a next generation of artists including Pierre Bonnard, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Maurice Denis, all of whom collected his work.

We hope you were inspired learning about this masterful artist and his work!

Art History 101 reviews selected artists from periods of history that continue to influence today’s culture and taste. If you enjoyed this story, please feel free to share on your favorite social media. Comments appreciated! If there is an artist you would like us to feature, please comment below. Thank you for your support!

Want first notice on more upcoming cultural events and tours? Subscribe now!

For more on Pastimes for a Lifetime’s Art Curriculum, and founder/instructor Linda Wehrli, visit the website.

Let’s be Social! Pastimes for a Lifetime on Facebook and Instagram
Jessica Lee Sanders on Instagram and Facebook

Share On Twitter

Don't miss out on deals and the latest news!

Receive first notice of special offer and new blog posts.

You have Successfully Subscribed!