Auguste Renoir

Auguste Renoir was a French artist who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. As a celebrator of beauty, and especially feminine sensuality, it has been said that "Renoir is the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau."

He was born in Limoges. As a boy, he worked in a porcelain factory where his drawing talents led to his being chosen to paint designs on fine china. In 1862, he began studying art under Charles Gleyre in Paris. There he met Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, and Claude Monet. Several pairs of paintings exist in which Renoir and Monet, working side-by-side, depicted the same scenes (La Grenouillère, 1869). At times during the 1860s, he did not have enough money to buy paint. Although Renoir first started exhibiting paintings at the Paris Salon in 1864, recognition did not come for another ten years, due, in part, to the turmoil of the Franco-Prussian War.

Renoir experienced his initial acclaim when six of his paintings were hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. In the same year, two of his works were shown with Durand-Ruel in London. In 1881, he traveled to Algeria, a country he associated with Eugène Delacroix, then to Madrid, to see the work of Diego Velázquez. Following that, he traveled to Italy to see Titian's masterpieces in Florence and the paintings of Raphael in Rome.

Renoir's paintings are notable for their vibrant light and saturated colour, most often focusing on people in intimate and candid compositions. The female nude was one of his primary subjects. In characteristic Impressionist style, Renoir suggested the details of a scene through freely brushed touches of colour. The works of his early maturity were typically Impressionist snapshots of real life, full of sparkling colour and light. By the mid-1880s, however, he had broken with the movement to apply a more disciplined, formal technique to portraits and figure paintings.

While living and working in Montmartre, Renoir employed as a model Suzanne Valadon, who posed for him and many of his fellow painters. In 1890, he married Aline Victorine Charigot, who, along with a number of the artist's friends, had already served as a model for Le Déjeuner des canotiers, and with whom he had already had a child, Pierre, in 1885. After his marriage, Renoir painted many scenes of his wife and daily family life, including their children and their nurse. The Renoirs had three sons, one of whom, Jean, became a filmmaker of note and another, Pierre, became a stage and film actor.

It was a trip to Italy in 1881, when he saw works by Raphael and other Renaissance masters, that convinced him that he was on the wrong path, and for the next several years he painted in a more severe style, in an attempt to return to classicism. His "Ingres period", is concentrated on his drawing and emphasized the outlines of figures. After 1890, however, he changed direction again, returning to thinly brushed colour to dissolve outlines as in his earlier work. From this period onward he concentrated especially on monumental nudes and domestic scenes, fine examples of which are Girls at the Piano, 1892, and Grandes Baigneuses, 1887. The latter painting is the most typical and successful of Renoir's late, abundantly fleshed nudes. A prolific artist, he made several thousand paintings. The warm sensuality of Renoir's style made his paintings some of the most well-known and frequently-reproduced works in the history of art.

Around 1892, Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis. In 1907, he moved to the warmer climate a farm at Cagnes-sur-Mer, close to the Mediterranean coast. Renoir painted during the last twenty years of his life, even when arthritis severely limited his movement, and he was wheelchair-bound. During this period, he created sculptures by cooperating with a young artist, Richard Guino, who worked the clay. Renoir also used a moving canvas, or picture roll, to facilitate painting large works with his limited joint mobility. He died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, on 3 December.

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