Renoir’s Self Portrait, 1910.
Ernst Gombrich famously said in his book ‘The Story of Art’: “There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.” If we are to look at art through this provocative statement, one of art history’s brightest artists is Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who found fame and fortune painting wonderful pictures that gleamed with light and colour. He was especially famously for his intimate portraits of beautiful women and children. One of his primary subjects was paintings of female nudes.
Renoir was born in Limoges, France, on the 25th February 1841. As a young boy he was often found drawing on the floor with his father’s tailor chalk. His talent’s did not go unnoticed, he put his skills to work at a porcelain factory, where he painted flowers onto china cups. Later in 1861, he went to Paris to study art. There he met many other artists, including Claude Monet. Both would become lifelong friends.
As part of a new breed of young artists, in and around that time, both Renoir and Monet would became known as the Impressionists. However, Renoir’s career as an artist was briefly suspended with service in the French cavalry during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. Though he quickly returned to art after the war and put on an exhibition with his friend Monet and many others, hoping to earn a living out of it. In 1874, he found fame when six of his paintings were critically acclaimed. As the years passed, he travelled around painting portraits. He often found himself in some of the poorest districts of Paris, painting colourful scenes of ordinary people enjoying life. In 1890, Renoir fell in love with one of his models, a beautiful and energetic women named Aline Victorine Charigot. She appeared in many of his paintings, including one of his best known called The Luncheon of the Boating Party.
The Large Bathers, 1887.
“The Luncheon of the Boating Party 1880-81” is one of Renoirs most famous and ambitions paintings. It took him some six months to complete, using friends and colleagues as his subjects. His future wife Aline, on the left, sits holding a small dog.
As Renoir began to sell more of his paintings, he and his wife began to travel. On a fateful trip to Italy to see the art of other Renaissance artists, including the works of Raphael, he was persuaded to change his style of painting to a new, “smoother” style. On his return home, Renoir began to focus his attention to painting portraits of beautiful women and family scenes. By the turn of the century (1902), Renoir began to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, which made it increasingly difficult for him to paint. His hands and feet became quite crippled and it is a wonder how he ever managed to paint in his last years. He would also remain confined to a wheelchair until his death on the 3rd of December 1919. With today being the anniversary of his death, let us remember one of the great artists of Impressionism.