PIERRE AUGUSTE RENOIR
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was one of the leading painters of the Impressionist group. Renoir evolved a technique of broken brushstrokes and used bold combinations of pure complementary colours to capture the light and movement of his landscapes and figurative subjects.
Born in Limoges in south-west France into a working class family. At the age of thirteen Renoir was apprenticed to the Levy-Freres porcelain factory on Rue Vieille du Temple in Paris where he painted designs onto fine china, vases and other products. Renoir excelled in painting miniature designs by François Boucher and other eighteenth-century Rococo masters on porcelain plates. These Rococo artists greatly influenced Renoir later in his career, particularly evident in his use of soft, variegated brushstrokes.
In 1862 Renoir enrolled in evening courses of anatomy and drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts and begun painting lessons in the studio of the academic artist Charles Gleyre. It was here that Renoir met Claude Monet, Frédéric Bazille and Alfred Sisley, with whom he established the Impressionist movement. The future Impressionists did not agree with the academic style of their teacher, sharing instead a common pursuit of an art that was free from past traditions. Influenced by Gustave Courbet, the students began to take trips to Fontainebleau to paint directly from nature in the open air with rapid, textured brushstrokes that sparkled with colour and light.
Renoir’s early work featured characteristically Impressionist vignettes of real life as it appeared around him, brimming with colour and light. In the late 1860s and early 1870s Renoir worked alongside Monet along the Seine near Paris, between them evolving what was the characteristic Impressionist idiom. After several of Renoir’s paintings were rejected by the Paris Saoln in the early 1870s, Renoir joined Monet in establishing the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs which enabled these artists to exhibit their work collectively outside the strict confines of the academic painting accepted by the Salon. As a founding member of this movement, Renoir exhibited in the First Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in April 1874, but ceased to exhibit with the group after 1877.
Renoir’s skill as a portrait artist attracted the attention of a range of patrons with avant-guarde sensibilities and with numerous commissions underway, Renoir finally begun to achieve financial freedom. From the mid 1880s, inspired by visits to Italy, where he discovered the work of Raphael, and to Provence, where he worked with Cézanne, Renoir broke with the Impressionist movement to apply a more disciplined, formal technique to portraits and figure paintings. From 1890 onwards, he reverted back to his earlier style using thinly applied brush strokes of pure colour through which the outlines of his subjects, figures, still lifes or landscapes would dissolve into mesmerising Impressionistic visions.
In 1892, Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis which severely limited Renoir’s movement and stunted his ability to paint. Despite this, Renoir continued to paint, often with a brush strapped to his paralyzed fingers in his later years. In later years his work centred on more personal and intimate themes, whilst Renoir also began to make sculpture, hiring a young assistant and collaborator Richard Guino to create models after his designs. Renoir’s later years were spent in the south of France, close to the Mediterranean, where the climate was better for his health.
Renoir was celebrated in the early twentieth-century as one of the greatest modern French painters, not only for his work as an Impressionist but also for the uncompromising aesthetic of his late works. Renoir’s work is represented in distinguished museum and private collections around the world.