Based in part on a Shady Ladies lecture by Edith de Belleville with historian Andrew Lear.
“I already was in love with women before I knew how to walk” Renoir
Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was one of eight children born to parents of modest means in Limoges, France. Hoping to improve its lot, the family moved to Paris. Renoir showed early artistic talent and went to work at 13 as an apprentice painter of porcelain. When the factory put in mechanical reproduction, the boy was forced out. He disparaged technology the rest of his life.
In 1862, Renoir entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and started studying art with Swiss painter Charles Gleyre. Fellow students included Alfred Sisley, Frederic Bazille, and Claude Monet. The group frequently painted one another and their families. Rejected summarily by the annual Salon, all would be identified as “Impressionists,” named, as an insult, after Monet’s 1864 painting Impression: Sunrise. (Work was considered unfinished i.e. impressions.)
“What seems most significant to me about the movement is that we have freed painting from the importance of the subject. I am at liberty to paint flowers and call them flowers without their needing to tell a story.” (Pierre Auguste Renoir)
Left: Lise with Umbrella 1867 (Public Domain) Right: Portrait de l’actrice Jeanne Samary 1877 (Public Domain)
Some immediate differences in Impressionist work is observation of brush strokes – that which preceded is purposefully smooth, Renior’s were called “broken”, the frequent necessity to step back in order to see what’s going on, use of multiple colors to achieve accurate light. (This was a shocking innovation where depiction of flesh was concerned.) Painting outdoors, more possible with the advent of oil in tubes, ran through the genre like a backbone. Professor Lear calls Impressionists and Post Impressionists the hipsters of their day.
Lisa Trehot was one of the first model/lovers Renoir would immortalize. They shared three years and two never-legitimized children. He painted and bedded a number of actresses including Jeanne Samary and, for his very last work Tilla Durieux, wife of art dealer Paul Cassirer. (1914)
Pan and Syrinx by Francois Boucher 1759 (Public Domain)
Renoir’s The Large Bathers (Les grandes baigneuses) (Public Domain)
Inspired by François Boucher and personal preference, Renoir’s voluptuous nudes had flesh on them. This image of The Large Bathers (Les grandes baigneuses) is thought to feature (bottom left) Suzanne Valadon, model, lover, aspiring artist and mother of Utrillo. “When I’ve painted a woman’s bottom so that I want to touch it, then the painting is finished.” (Pierre Auguste Renoir) He worked and reworked this painting for three years.
At the second Impressionist exhibition, struggling to make a living, the artist showed portraits seeking commissions. The third contained one of his most famous works, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du Moulin de la Galette) 1876. (The courtyard of the Moulin de la Galette is still in operation today.) Until Impressionists, few artists represented the working class. His dappled sunlight was a revelation. Four by six feet, the canvas was unusually large for its time. The predominance of Renoir’s work embraced his roots. He became known, in part, for showing Parisian modernity, leisure, and domesticity.
Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du Moulin de la Galette) 1876 (Public Domain)
De Belleville shows us a telling series of works which influenced/inspired Renoir side by side with his own interpretation.
Aline Victorine Charigot, a dressmaker 19 years his junior would be the most important woman in his life. After ten years, he married his mistress and mother of his first son. She became a frequent subject and laid down the law where Valadon was concerned. (The Renoirs would have three sons, Pierre who became an actor, director Jean Renoir who made the iconic films Grande Illusion and La Ronde, and Claude, a ceramicist.)
Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party (Public Domain)
In Luncheon of the Boating Party, a painting filled with Renoir’s friends, Aline is pictured front left with her little dog. Towards the right at back, the woman in black gloves is thought be an actress with whom the artist dispensed when he met his future wife. Renoir’s skilled composition reigns above many of his Impressionist peers. Introducing more structure than usual in the genre, he paved the way for a post Impressionist vision. Surfaces of glass, straw and flesh are distinctive.
Renoir’s Algerian Girl 1881 (Public Domain)
A six week tour to Italy and Algeria inspired by Delacroix reaped oeuvre of a different attitude and color scheme. Orientalism fascinated him. Trips to Holland, Spain, England, Germany followed exposing the artist to classical approaches that were new to him. Renoir withdrew from group exhibits in favor of private dealers. We’re told drawing became more important than color.
In the early 1890s, work became a challenge. The artist developed rheumatoid arthritis in his hands and moved the family south to Cagnes-sur-Mer, a warmer climate. He wrapped his hands in bandages and had an assistant place the paintbrush in one. A stroke then left him in a wheelchair. Still, determined, Renoir continued painting for another 20 years despite the pain. Aline died four years before her husband. The artist is buried in Cagnes-sur-Mer where a Renoir museum now honors him.
Pierre Auguste Renoir by Dormac 1910 (Public Domain)
Opening: Left-Renoir’s Nude in a Landscape 1883 (Public Domain) Right: Renoir Self Portrait 1910 (Public Domain)
Recommended: Renoir: My Father by Jean Renoir