French Draftsman and Painter
Summary of Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a French Impressionist painter whose eye for beauty made him one of the movement's most popular practitioners. He is best known for his paintings of bustling Parisian modernity and leisure in the last three decades of the 19th century. Though celebrated as a colorist with a keen eye for capturing the movement of light and shadow, Renoir started to explore Renaissance painting in the middle of his career, which led him to integrate more line and composition into his mature works and create some of his era's most timeless canvases.
- Working alongside Claude Monet, Renoir was essential to developing Impressionist style in the late 1860s, but there is a decidedly human element to his work that sets him apart. Renoir had a brilliant eye for both intimate domesticity and the day's fashions, and his images of content families and well-dressed Parisian pleasure seekers created a bridge from Impressionism's more experimental aims to a modern, middle-class art public.
- Renoir was the first Impressionist to perceive the potential limitations of an art based primarily on optical sensation and light effects. Though his discoveries in this field would always remain integral to his art, he reasserted the necessity of composition and underlying structure in modern painting, achieving in his mature work a structured, monumental style that acknowledged the strengths of High Renaissance art.
- Renoir's example became indispensable for the major French movements of high modernism: Fauvism and Cubism. Like Renoir, the progenitors of these styles focused on issues of color, composition, and depth rather than quick sketches of individual moments. His composed, vivid paintings created a vital bridge from earlier colorists like Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Jean-Antoine Watteau, and Eugène Delacroix to the 20th-century giants Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
Biography of Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born into a working class family in Limoges, a city in the central west region of France. The area is historically significant as the center of French porcelain production, reaching that status during the 19th century. Fittingly, Renoir's first artistic job, during his teens, was as a painter in one of the town's porcelain factories. The son of a tailor and a seamstress, Renoir had a steady hand and a talent for decorative effect, which earned him praise from his employers and brought him to the attention of a growing customer base, including a number of wealthy patrons for whom he painted picture hangings and decorations for fans and other luxury objects. These early successes fed his desire to leave the factory and pursue fine arts painting.
Important Art by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
This wonderfully composed piece is far from exemplary when considering Renoir's later body of work. What we see, rather, is a young artist with a gift for oil painting and composition and yet without a truly distinct voice of his own. During his early years, Renoir spent a great deal of time touring the halls of the Louvre and other museums and studying the French masters of the 18th and early-19th centuries. In this canvas, he rendered his mistress Lise Tréhot as the Roman goddess Diana, a common trope in Rococo portraiture. Though the matter-of-fact depiction of a full-figured nude also recalls his love of Realism a la Courbet, he achieves a Classical timelessness that Realism lacked.
At the popular outdoor bathing spot and bar La Grenouillère ("The Frog Pond"), Renoir and Monet, not yet financially successful artists, painted images of middle-class leisure that they hoped to sell to its wealthy clientele. As they worked closely alongside one another, the two simultaneously developed several of the theories, techniques, and practices that would give rise to Impressionism. Both artists painted this scene from this exact vantage point. If Monet's gives a broader perspective and focuses more on the vivid effects of light on the water and surrounding trees, then Renoir's version gives a closer view of the fashionable denizens of the popular resort. Indeed, even when painting nature en plein air, Renoir gave a weight to the human subject perhaps unmatched by his fellow Impressionists.
Depicting an elegant-looking couple sitting in an elevated theater box, this tribute to Parisian modern life was also the artist's principal contribution to the very first Impressionist exhibition of the same year, and it was met with much acclaim. The theater played a prominent role in Parisian life, from opera to the popular variety shows featuring can-can dancers, and depictions of the theater typically focused on the performers. However, much of the allure of the theater for the middle class was the opportunity to see and be seen, and La Loge deftly captures that complex interplay of gazes. The woman lowers her opera glasses, implying that she is no longer watching the events on stage and allowing her face to be seen. Meanwhile, the man (Renoir's brother Edmond) leans back in his seat, perusing the theatergoers in other balconies through his glasses. With his delicate and masterful rendering of his model's lacy bodice, glinting jewelry, and floral accoutrements, Renoir painted a canvas about seeing that spoke to his own keen eye.