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 (1841-1919), who found fame and fortune painting wonderful pictures that gleamed with radiant light and colour. He was especially famous for his intimate portraits of beautiful women, children, flowers and peasant scenes. Importantly, along with a new generation of young artists, which included his lifelong friend Claude Monet, he would play an important part in the development of art known as Impressionism.
To celebrate Pierre-Auguste Renoir, we have taken the liberty to highlight some of the more interesting paintings of his amazing career. Enjoy!
Spring Bouquet, 1866.
Renoir interest in art began on the floor of his father’s tailor shop, where as a young boy he was often found drawing with tailor’s chalk. By the age of thirteen, he put his artistic talents to use in a porcelain factory by painting flowers onto China cups. (It wasn’t long before the factory’s owner encouraged Renoir’s family to enrol him into art school.) His early apprenticeship years, painting tiny flowers onto cups, in all probability inspired Renoir, to take his love of still life painting to a new level, via a large canvas early in his career. Of interest, is this wonderful still life with flowers called Spring Bouquet, which shines with an array of light and colour. Renoir cleverly balances the overstuffed composition with a dark shadow to the right of the vase, where a clump of foliage appears to have spilled over.
Worthy of our attention, art historians point out, that Renoir had not yet evolved his Impressionist technique here. He was still vividly depicting flowers, rather than just simply suggesting that they were there (with a dazzling effect of colour), what is undoubtedly one of the hallmark of Impressionism.
The Theatre Box, (La Loge) 1874.
In 1861, Renoir was accepted into a Paris school to study art. There he met many contemporary artists, such as Alfred Sisley, Frederic Bazille and Claude Monet. A decade later, Renoir would join forces with these men, after they failed to win recognition by the Paris Salon, the official art exhibition of the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and opened up their own exhibition that would later become known as the first exhibition of Impressionism. Targeted at first as radical painters, the Impressionist, as they were dubbed, would eventually win over critics and art lovers alike. Renoir, in particular found fame when six of his paintings were critically acclaimed.
Renoir most acclaimed paintings at the exhibit was The Theatre depicting a la mode couple seated in two of the finest seats at the theatre. By making the theatre box the subject of intrigue, Renoir captures the wonderful social carryings-on of a couple flaunting their status.
The Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876.
As the years passed, Renoir travelled around painting portraits. He often found himself in some of the poorest districts of Paris, painting colourful scenes of ordinary people enjoying life. The Bal du Moulin de la Galette is one of Renoir’s most celebrated masterpieces, highlighting the ordinary lives of the Parisian working class, enjoying a blissful Sunday afternoon dancing, singing and feasting amongst friends and strangers.
The Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81.
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. It is one of Renoir’s most famous and ambitions paintings that successfully combines a number of different elements, such as light, still-life and landscape. It took him some six months to complete The Luncheon, using friends and colleagues as his subjects. Importantly, Renoir’s future wife Aline, on the far left, sits holding a small dog.
The Umbrellas, 1881-1886.
As Renoir fame grew and he began to sell more of his paintings, he and his wife could afford to travel more. On a fateful trip to Italy to see the art of the great 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.
One of the best paintings that highlights this transition is The Umbrellas, a busy streetscape of Parisians hurriedly hiding from the rain. In short, this composition was painted in two parts, beginning in 1881, with all the contours of an Impressionist in full bloom. The painting would remain unfinished for a number of years and when Renoir eventually returned to it, he had lost interest in his Impressionism and completed it in a more classical tone inspired by his visit to Italy. The most noteworthy classical element in The Umbrellas is the principal female figure holding the empty basket.
The Large Bathers, 1887.
Renoir was arguably invigorated or reborn as a painter after his fateful trip to Italy. He took to his new sculptured style with the passion of a classicalist. He paid homage to the great artists of the 16th and 17th century by working on many of his own nude compositions, particularly in his later years. One of his most famous nude paintings, The Large Bathers, depicts an intimate group of women bathing and playfully splashing around the water’s edge. Here Renoir successfully absorbs the influence of the classical world, with the sculptured figures of his naked subjects, truly making them standout against a background or landscape filled with impressionistic stylings.
Self Portrait, 1910.
Renoir would paint self-portraits during different stages of his life and career. It was also a great way to experiment with technique, especially because he hoped to make money attracting portrait commission. However, the tired old man in the self-portrait of 1910, is arguably a fitting reminder of a genius who had lived an interesting life. His sunken eyes tell a tale of a man doing the best that he can given the predicament of his later years.
We know for instance that by the turn of the century, Renoir had begun to suffer terribly from rheumatoid arthritis, which made it increasingly difficult for him to paint. His hands and feet became quite crippled and it was a wonder how he ever managed to paint in his last years. (He often needed help to place brushes in his hands.) He would also for the most part be confined to a wheelchair until his death in 1919.