His Famous Works
La première sortie Canvas, 65 × 50 (25 1/2 × 19 3/4) By courtesy of the Trustees of the National Gallery, London
Lea parapluies Canvas, 180 × 115 (71 × 45 1/4) By courtesy of the Trustees of the National Gallery, London
Madame Charpentier and her children Canvas, 153.5 × 190.5 (60 1/2 × 74 7/8) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Wolfe Fund)
Moulin de la Galette Canvas, 130.5 × 175.6 (51 1/2 × 69) Louvre, Paris
Nude Canvas, 79.5 × 63.5 (31 1/4 × 25) Louvre, Paris
Though there is no dispute as to the eminence of Renoir's genius, his work has had no influence at all on Modern Painting. It is regarded as something apart, unique, inimitable, the expression of a prodigious sensibility, defying all analysis. Also its highly personal, instinctual qualities do not fit in with any aesthetic theory of our times.
( 1841-1919). French painter; born in Limoges; died at Cagnes in the south of France. Beyond Impressionism, of which he was one of the chief initiators, Renoir joins the line of artists who, from Titian and Tintoretto to Rubens, from Fragonard to Delacroix and Courbet, have seen in painting a kind of pagan and sensual celebration of the glory of woman. The son of a tailor, Renoir began his artistic life as an apprentice, prudently painting small bouquets of flowers on porcelain plates, and then decorating, with the same care, fans and shades for missionaries. However, he had greater hopes. Having saved some money, he gave up being a workman to become a pupil and enrolled, in 1862, at the Atelier Gleyre, where he met Monet, Bazille and Sisley; the nucleus of the future Impressionists was thus constituted. The following year, leaving the Atelier, he went with his new friends to the forest of Fontainebleau to paint from Nature. He was at this time under the influence of Courbet, and this influence can be discerned as much in a work like The Sisley Family ( 1868) as in the Bather with Griffon ( 1870): there is the same feeling for texture, the same sensuousness in the volumes, the same frankness. However, association with Claude Monet led him, in certain canvases, to practise the division of the coloured stroke that was to be one of the achievements of Impressionism, and to this we owe the two astonishing versions of La Grenouillère, dated 18681869. In 1870 Renoir was mobilized; he met his comrades again after the war and participated in the famous exhibition of 1874 at the photographer Nadar's, where Impressionism was born. Renoir, who exhibited La Loge, was one of the painters who incurred the most acid criticism. This was, however, the period during which he produced works of such disconcerting beauty as The Moulin de la Galette ( 1876), The Swing (reproduced on page 129), or Road Climbing Through the Grass ( 1875). He was reproached, among other things, with covering his figures with mould when he painted sun filtering through foliage. Now that we are accustomed to coloured shadow and purple tonalities, it is difficult to imagine what a great innovation a canvas like the Moulin de la Galette was. The chief characteristic of Renoir's Impressionist period is that he succeeded in adding a sentimental atmosphere to the representation of Nature and seemed to be just as charmed by a tender interlacing of his figures as by the play of foliage or of water. Although he never yielded entirely to anecdote, it is evident that the subject of the canvas remained infinitely more important for him than for any other painter of the new school. While his friends were chiefly attracted by landscape, his own preference was for group studies and portraits. Having sung the joy of the popular country cafés with music and dancing, he devoted himself to producing some of the most sumptuous images of Parisian society that have been left to us by his period: for example, the portraits of the Henriot Family ( 1876), of Madame Charpentier and Her Daughter ( 1878), of Jeanne Samary ( 1879). A painter of manners, Renoir apparently could not do without the human presence to give measure to his work and express the kind of feeling he wanted to put into it. Whereas Cézanne tended to reduce everything to the impersonal level of the object and to exercise the same calm impartiality for a face as for an apple, Renoir seemed, quite to the contrary, to bring everything into accord with his vision of man. In his work a flower, a fruit are coloured, savoury and palpitating with life, like a human body beneath whose skin one can tell that blood circulates. Cézanne looked and reasoned; Renoir saw and felt. The same opposition is evident in their colour, in the red, or warm, dominants of Renoir, and the blue or green, cold dominants of Cézanne.
But Renoir's Impressionist period proper was approaching its end, and the The Canoeists' Lunch, which he conceived during the summer of 1880, while frequenting the café of Mère Fournaise on the island of Croissy, near Paris, was one of the last canvases in which he was to express and sum up the ideal of his youth in a particularly demonstrative synthesis. He was forty and felt the need for renewal. Nothing troubled him more than the facility, the systematic spirit into which Impressionism threatened to lapse. Renoir, like Cézanne a few years earlier, gained a fresh grip by returning to the classical tradition. He left for Italy in the autumn of 1881. After a stay in Venice, he went on to Rome, where he paused long before the frescoes of Raphael at the Villa Farnese, and then proceeded to Naples, where he discovered Pompeian painting. Of this period he would later say, 'A break occurred then in my work. I had gone to the limit of Impressionism and was arriving at the conclusion that I could neither paint nor draw. In short, I was deadlocked.' Under the influence of Raphael he was henceforth to adopt a much smoother manner. Reacting against the dispersion and scattering of colour in juxtaposed strokes, he gave a deliberate and rather surprising dryness to forms, which he encircled with a pure and precise line. For what had won him over in Italy, especially in Raphael's work, was the quality of the drawing, which, under a seeming coldness, lingers over the modelling of forms with a keenness and a concentration in which the roles played by the senses and the mind an difficult to separate. Remembering that drawing represents the intellectual element in painting and colour the sensory, it is not a little surprising to see a painter like Renoir adopt such a manner for a time. He who had previously required colour to suggest form, to be its own design, would now imprison it in the severe frame of an increasingly minute and precise painting. This period, which has been called 'Ingresque' -- Renoir called it more justly his 'harsh manner' -- was characterized -- by a partiality for cold tones and acid colours, for a smooth, dull surface. A transitory stage in his work, it was nevertheless decisive in so far as it represented an admirable effort of discipline and corresponded to one of those critical moments in the life of an artist when he questions everything and thinks out his art again from its very fundamentals. From this discipline, so contrary to his nature, Renoir was able to extract the best results in numerous canvases about 1895, notably in Les Grandes Baigneuses and The Braid. However, he did not long endure this constraint, under which his genius was visibly not developing normally, and reverted soon to his characteristic coloured texture. He returned to it with greater vigour than at the time of Impressionism. His experience left him with more self-confidence but, above all, with the capacity to be no longer strictly dominated by reality and to impose upon the subject treated the will of his creative genius.
With his last 'manner' one witnesses an unprecedented flowering. In a rediscovered unity of colour and line, volume and light, Renoir would untiringly sing woman's body, the centre of the universe, an ever-renewed creation of our desire. Nudes filled his landscapes to the point of occupying the whole canvas, and red, infinitely modulated, became the dominant colour in which all the others were consumed, in the same way that woman in her eternal youth would be born again every time in Gabrielle, his faithful servant and favourite model. The compositions of this period are unusual in that under the appearance of total freedom they retain infinitely more will than those of Monet or Sisley, but more spontaneity and naturalness than those of Degas. Here Renoir has given the full measure of himself. These canvases achieved recognition very slowly, and even today many collectors consider them inferior to his earlier ones. It is certain that the big nudes that make up the essential part of his production after 1900 represent, when compared to works like La Loge or the Moulin de la Galette, an art much more difficult to accept, for, liberated of all constraint, the new manner proved capable of transcribing Renoir's feeling with a boldness that was not yet discernible at the time of Impressionism. The choice of themes is in itself significant. Renoir was not afraid of giving up what had made his success; when his personality was beginning to assert itself in society portraits, he rejected this theme to tackle either group studies, nudes or still life, with which he could not be sure of conquering a new public. This attitude resulted more from his character than from in aesthetic doctrine. 'For me', he liked to say, 'a picture must be a pleasant thing, joyous and pretty -- yes, pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life for us to fabricate still more.'
It was inevitable that the physical pleasure in form and texture that Renoir felt to an intense degree and that made him, in his own words, 'pet a picture, stroke it with the hand', should draw him toward sculpture. This he undertook at a time when, unfortunately, physical disability no longer allowed him much suppleness. He secured the assistance of a young sculptor to work under his constant direction. The only sculpture entirely from his own hand is the portrait of his son Coco, which was executed about 1907-1908. Later works were done by the sculptor Richard Guino, but Renoir's authorship of them cannot be denied; not only do they reveal a close relationship of form and spirit with his painting, but also what Richard Guino executed out of Renoir's presence cannot compare with them. The large Venus and the large Washerwoman are masterful works that can take their place among the masterpieces of contemporary sculpture.
Renoir's is a happy art, for as a man he was without bitterness and without jealousy. His work obeyed an inner logic; it was in harmony with a perfectly balanced life able to accept itself at every moment of its development, even the most painful, when illness had deformed his limbs and in order to continue painting he was forced to have his brush tied to his wrist. The impecunious young man he had been at the beginning, who had lived in Montmartre and met the young women of the quarter, nice working girls, models, with light heads and susceptible hearts, was to be received later in families of the Parisian haute bourgeoisie. But, in both cases, whether he painted the ball at the Moulin de la Galette, The Swing, The Canoeists' Lunch, or executed portraits he had been commissioned to do, it was first his own sensibility that he expressed, more than just the depiction of the sentimental atmosphere of his works, and, needless to say, it was to himself above all that he meant to be true. Thus his emotions as a painter were in harmony with his feelings as a man and, as a result, an exemplary unity was established between his works, in spite of their differences. Neither was there a sharp break when he gave up too specific subjects almost entirely and preferred to paint bathing women with naked torsos in the innumerable portraits of Gabrielle, this being his own way of creating pure painting. For here again it is clear that love of painting and admiration for woman were indissolubly linked in him and were only the double aspect of his single passion for a clear and healthy life.