Auguste Renoir (1841 -1919)
Renoir, an impressionist portraitist:
Renoir is one of the most famous Impressionists. But impressionism is mostly associated with landscapes painted ‘en-plein-air’ and Renoir did so several times. But most of all was he a portraitist. In several paintings the model dissolves with the background and is caught in a random moment, see for example Madame Chocquet reading. In most portraits of Renoir the model comes out distinctly from the background. In his early portraits he still uses the traditional tones of black, brown and grey. In his later portraits the backgrounds are more colourful. In these portraits Renoir uses small, vivid brushstrokes which give the portrait a vibrant glow. And look at the palet of colours he uses for the hair of the models; what a master ! A good example is the portrait of Jeanne Samary which he exhibited at the 3rd impressionist exposition in 1877.
Renoir joined in (only) four of the eight impressionist expositions:
- In the beginning Renoir was an active member of the impressionist art movement.
1873/12/27 Renoir is co-founder of the ‘Société Anonyme…’
1874/4/15 Renoir exhibits 7+1hc=8 works at the first impressionist exposition, including 4 portraits (see pictures)
April 1876 Renoir exhibits 18+1hc=19 works at the second impressionist exposition, all portraits (see pictures)
April 1877 Renoir exhibits 21 works at the third impressionist exposition, including 12 portraits (see pictures)
- But 1878 onwards Renoir chooses to leave the impressionist expositions behind and to admit to the Paris Salon again. In 1882 Renoir doesn’t want to join the seventh impressionist exposition, but can’t prevent Durand-Ruel from exhibiting 25+2=27 of his works (including 12 landscapes and 5 still lives; see pictures). In March 1881 he writes to Durand-Ruel: “There are in Paris scarcely fifteen art-lovers capable of liking a painting without Salon approval. There are 80.000 who will not buy an inch of canvas if it is not in the Salon… My submitting to the Salon is entirely a business matter.” (R2,p308).
- See for an account of the exhibited paintings (references, translations, info, discussion, locations on Google-maps).
Renoir had an ambivalent relationship with the Paris Salon
Renoir at first followed a more traditional path as a painter. He copies old masters in the Louvre (1860/61), attends the studio of Gleyre (1861/11/8) and admits the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (1862/4/1). In 1864 he debuts at the Paris Salon, after he was first rejected in 1863. In his admissions he uses mythological themes (1863 + 1867) and a lot of blacks, browns and greys. In the oriental themes the influence of Delacroix is apparent (1870 +72). He is often rejected (1863, 66, 67, 72,73). With the paintings that were accepted (in 1864, 65, 68, 69, 70) he didn’t have much succes. After joining the ‘impressionist’ expositions in 1874, 76 and 77 he admitted again to the Salon in 1878. (Some sources say he did so in 1875 + 1877.) He would be accepted the next five years and again for the last time in 1890.
In 1877 Renoir criticises the Ecole des Beaux Arts which is ‘fully based on the past’ and ‘sends painters to Rome to copy Raphael’; he pleads for ‘modern movements’, ‘a new cultural consciousness’ and ‘originality’ (R30,p136). But autumn 1881 Renoir will go to Italy and copy old masters, including Raphael. See the pictures Renoir submitted to the Paris Salon ; and an account (references, translations, info, discussion, locations on Google-maps) of this.
1883, Renoir distances from Impressionism:
- Autumn 1882 Renoir writes: ‘Don’t talk me anymore about portraits in sunlight. A nice dark background, that’s the right thing.’ (R31,no.66). In another letter he writes that around 1883 he concluded that Impressionism was a dead-end road (R32,p55). Inspired by Ingres he would lay more emphasize on line and composition. Instead of capturing the momentary light effects en-plein-air he tries to render timelessness in the studio (R31,p242). The portraits become monumentally, his brushstroke more smooth and the faces and bodies more porcelain-like, see for example the portrait of Lucie Berard (R30,no.599).
- But when we look closely he didn’t paint much pictures in this way. Far more pictures in this period are painted with clearly visibel paralellel brushstrokes, which was also influenced by Cézanne, as in the picture at Roche Guyon (R31,no.77). And he still paints his wife blending with the background of the garden and with a vivid brushstroke in 1884, as he did in a similar style in other pictures.
- And shortly before, at the beginning of his Italian trip, he painted his most impressionistic city-views in Venice, see and below 1882-147.
- In later years he still paints the leaves-filtered-sunlight, like in the apple seller (ca.1890). And his landscapes stay very colourful, like the footbridge at Essoyes (ca.1898-1901). In that sense Renoir stayed an impressionist painter.
- In a late painting, the Chapel in Cagnes (1905), he returned to his Ingres-period and again used thinned paint and laid emphasize on line.
- How must we interpret Renoir’s distancing from Impressionism? We know his art-collectors and most important the art-dealer Durand-Ruel (see below) disliked his new linear style (R31,p242). In foreign exhibitions he would still be represented as an impressionist painter (R30,p315). He still would dwell among impressionist circles (see below) and as we saw, he continued painting with bright vibrant colours.
Characteristics of Renoir as a painter:
- Renoir is above all a portraitist (see also above). His most impressionist portraits are anonymous. Especially in commissioned portraits the pose often is more formal, being painted for ‘eternity’. The background is often darker, so the model comes out distinctly. For the black cloths Renoir often used dark purples, reds, blues and greens. In his early years his portraits are more traditional. In those pictures Renoir uses a lot of blacks, browns and greys and the brushstroke (in the face) is more smooth. The majority of Renoir’s portraits are women. More than once he paints them with a dreamy gaze and makes them more beautiful and elegant than they really were (R15, p204).
- Although he already paints en-plein-air in the forest of Fountainebleau, Renoir still uses a lot of dark greens and browns and his brush stroke is quite smooth, see the ferry (1866) below. In 1869 with Monet in Grenouillère Renoir starts to loosen his brushstroke and to brighten his colours.
- In the highlights of his impressionistic paintings the leaves-filtered-sunlight is very typical
(see above 1877-186; and also 1876-212 and 1877-185). In those pictures Renoir tries to render the momentary influence of the sunlight on the colours of the objects; typical impressionistic. But in the landscapes he makes, there is not often an indication of time-of-day, season or weather-conditions. Mostly his indications of place are more approximate. In this sense Renoir is not a typical impressionist landscapist (see also account).
- In the 1870’s Renoir often paints the leasures of comtemporary urban live: groups of young bright shiny people in restaurants, loges, dancing-places, boating, etc. In that sense he is a painter of ‘la-joy-de-vivre’ (see above 1877-182; 1882-140; but also 1874-142; 1882-151). Renoir scarcely paints workers and if he does it’s more idyllic (see laundresses below).
- Renoir sometimes painted (colourful) still lives (see 1882-144, 145, 156, 158, 159).
- 1880 onwards nudes become an important theme is his paintings.
- By the mid-1890s Renoir starts using many reds and again blacks in his pictures (R30,p8; R31,p250).
- Renoir never was a painter with big theories. He said: ‘the purpose of a painting is to decorate a wall’ (R30,p8). Still in 1884 he attempted to found the ‘Société des Irrégularistes’. In the pamphlet he writes, that all art-work has to based on the principal of irregularity, because in nature nothing is the same. ‘The eyes in a beautiful face are never alike.’ (R30,p137)
Durand-Ruel gave Renoir prosperity and fame:
- Renoir came from a working class family. His father was a tailor and his mother a dressmaker. He himself started at the age of thirteen to work as a decorative painter and continued to do so in the 1860s.
- In 1864 Renoir was first accepted at the Paris Salon, this increased his expectations to make a living as a painter (R31,p19). Outside the Salon there were not many exhibition possibilities. In the 1860’s his main source of income were commissions for portraits (R30). Still Renoir often was short of money and was hardly able to buy food or painting materials.
- In 1872 the art-dealer Durand-Ruel started to buy some pictures of Renoir and 1873 onwards some art-collectors started to buy his work and give him commissions. The ‘impressionist’ expositions he joined weren’t a financial succes, neither were the auctions in Hôtel Drouot (1875 + 1877).
- In March 1881 in a letter to Durand-Ruel Renoir sighs ‘There are in Paris scarcely fifteen art-lovers capable of liking a painting without Salon approval. There are 80.000 who will not buy an inch of canvas if it is not in the Salon… My submitting to the Salon (since 1878 again) is entirely a business matter.’ (R2,p308)
- In 1879 Renoir has succes at the Paris Salon (Mme. Charpentier and her children, see below) and also exhibits at La Vie Moderne. 1881 was a turning point when Durand-Ruel started to buy many of Renoir’s work. In 1882 alone he spend almost 30.000 francs (R31,p28).
- 1883 onwards the possibilities for exhibiting his works are increasing. Most important by Durand-Ruel (1883+), but also Georges Petit (1886+), Les XX in Brussels (1886+). In 1886 an important foreign exhibition was held in New York. Many would follow. Conclusion: Renoir didn’t need the ‘impressionist’ expositions and even the Paris Salon anymore.
- In 1892 the state bought ‘Jeunes filles au piano’ for 4000 francs, which denoted an official recognition (R31,no.91). In 1894 six of his works from the Caillebotte bequest are accepted in Musée Luxembourg (now in Musée d’Orsay) (R31,p23). In 1900 Renoir receives the order of ‘Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur’, in 1911 he becomes ‘Officier’ and in 1919 ‘Commandeur’.
- This financial prosperity is translated in his frequent travels (1881-1898) and in buying a house in Essoyes in 1895 and the estate ‘Les Colettes’ in Cagnes in 1907 (R31). Still he never cared for luxury and was known as a modest man (R30).
Renoir always was active within the impressionist circles:
- Renoir regularly met other impressionists in Café Guerbois, Restaurant Fournaise, Café Nouvelles-Athènes, Café Riche, the soirees at the Charpentiers and Morisot’s house (see meeting together in Paris)
- Renoir regularly spent time and painted together with other impressionists:
at Gleyre, in Fontainebleau, at Grénouillère, Argenteuil
with Monet, Sisley, Cordey, Cézanne, Caillebotte, Morisot, Zandomeneghi
and related painters like Bazille, Jules le Coeur en Lestringuez
- He continues to do so after his distancing from Impressionism in 1883.
In this sense Renoir always was part of the impressionist art-movement.
Renoir, a short private biography:
- 1841/2/25 born in Limoges (in the middle of France)
his father Léonard died 1874/12/22; his mother, Marguerite Merlet, died 1896/11/11.
his younger brother Edmond (born 1849/5/12) (R31) later worked as an art-critic
- 1844 the family moved to Paris; in 1868 his parents move to rue-de-Voisins, Louveciennes (R31,p296)
- 1864 Renoir rents an atelier and house (?) and later on will move many times in Paris
- 1880: meets Aline Charigot who first becomes his model, than his mistress and 1890/4/14 they marry (R31,p300ff)
- 1885/3/21: Pierre is born; 1894/9/15: Jean is born; Gabrielle Renard, a niece of Aline, starts to be their maid, house-keeper and his model; 1901/8/4: Claude (or: Coco) is born
- 1888/12/29: first strike of rheumatism; his hands become deformed (1900), he ends up in a wheelchair (1910), suffers sever pains, but finds comfort in painting.
- 1898 onwards he will spend the winters and spring on the French Mediterranean (R31,p268)
1907/6/28: buys the estate ‘Les Colettes’ in Cagnes, which is now Musée Renoir
- 1915/6/27: Aline dies in Nice (R31,p313)
1919/12/3: Renoir dies in Cagnes
1919/12/6 Renoir is buried in Essoyes beside Aline
Renoir, additional references (=aR):
- the Salons database of Orsay
- www.the-athenaeum.org / Renoir: 1980 art-works !
- www.art-renoir.com (many art-works per decade; with information on the works and advertisements)
- en.Wikipedia.org / Renoir (info and pictures)
- www.wikiart.org / Renoir (1405 art-works; 1 chronological list; or 20 works on one page, it’s not easy to go back and forth)
- impressionistsgallery.co.uk / Renoir (no full page pictures)
- Google Art Project / Renoir (possibility to zoom)
- renoir-essoyes.fr (museum in the former house of Renoir)
(Detailed information on Renoir and his pictures in Dutch.)