“The purpose of painting is to decorate the walls. Therefore it has to be as rich as possible.” - Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919) was born in Limoges on 25 February 1841. His father was a tailor, and in 1954 Renoir was given an apprenticeship working as a painter in a porcelain factory in Paris, gaining experience with the light, fresh colors that were to distinguish his Impressionist work and also learning the importance of good craftsmanship. His predilection towards lighthearted themes was also influenced by the great Rococo masters, whose works he studied in the Louvre.
In 1862 he entered the studio of Gleyre and there formed a lasting friendship with Monet, Sisley and Bazille. He painted with them in the Barbizon district and became a leading member of the group of Impressionists who met at the Café Guerbois. His relationship with Monet was particularly close at this time, and their paintings of the beauty spot called La Grenouillère done in 1869 are regarded as the classic early statements of the Impressionist style.
Like Monet, Renoir endured much hardship early in his career, but he began to achieve success as a portraitist in the late 1870s and was freed from financial worries after the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel began buying his work regularly in 1881. By this time Renoir said “…I travelled as far as Impressionism could take me”, and a visit to Italy in 1881-82 inspired him to seek a greater sense of solidarity in his work.
The change in attitude is seen in his paintings for then on, which have a crisper and drier style, with duller coloring. After a period of experimentation with what he called his “manière aigre” (harsh or sour manner) in the mid 1880s, he developed a softer and more supple kind of handling. At the same time he turned from contemporary themes to more timeless subjects, particularly nudes, but also pictures of children in unspecific settings. As his style became grander and simpler he also took up mythological subjects and the female type he preferred became more mature and ample.
In the 1890s Renoir began to suffer from rheumatism, and from 1903 (by which time he was world-famous) he lived in the warmth of the south of France. The rheumatism eventually crippled him (by 1912 he was confined to a wheelchair), but he continued to paint until the end of his life, and in his last years he also took up sculpture, directing assistants (including Richard Guino, a pupil of Maillol) to act as his hands.
Renoir is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, as his subjects, pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women have instant appeal, and he communicated the joy he took in them with great directness. “Why shouldn't art be pretty?” he said, “There are enough unpleasant things in the world.” He was one of the great worshippers of the female form, and he said “I never think I have finished a nude until I think I could pinch it.”
His 1881 painting above, “Luncheon of the Boating Party” (Le déjeuner des canotiers) exemplifies Renoir’s style wonderfully. It shows a richness of form, a fluidity of brush stroke, and a flickering light and gorgeous colour with a marvellous rendition of light and shade. It is an instantly appealing work with richness of detail, humour and a sense of keen observation.
The painting depicts a group of Renoir’s friends relaxing on a balcony at the Maison Fournaise along the Seine river in Chatou, France. The painter and art patron, Gustave Caillebotte, is seated in the lower right. Renoir’s future wife, the seamstress Aline Charigot, is in the foreground playing with a small dog. On the table is fruit and wine. The diagonal of the railing serves to demarcate the two halves of the composition, one densely packed with figures, the other all but empty, save for the two figures of the proprietor’s daughter Louise-Alphonsine Fournaise and her brother, Alphonse Fournaise, Jr, which are made prominent by this contrast. In this painting Renoir has captured a great deal of light. The main focus of light is coming from the large opening in the balcony, beside the large singleted man in the hat. The singlets of both men in the foreground and the table-cloth all work together to reflect this light and send it through the whole composition. A charming work exhibitied in The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.