Pierre-Auguste Renoir

John Florens | Apr 19, 2023

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir (; Limoges, February 25, 1841 - Cagnes-sur-Mer, December 3, 1919) was a French painter, considered one of the greatest exponents of Impressionism.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born on February 25, 1841, in Limoges, in the Haute Vienne region of France, the fourth of five children. His mother, Marguerite Merlet, was a humble textile worker, while his father, Léonard, was a tailor. It was thus a family of very modest circumstances, and the hypothesis that the Renoirs were of noble origins-promoted by their grandfather François, an orphan reared illo tempore by a hooker-did not enjoy great popularity in the family. Not surprisingly, when François died in 1845, Papa Léonard - enticed by the hope of a secure salary - moved with the family to Paris, settling at No. 16 rue de la Bibliothèque, a short distance from the Louvre Museum. Pierre-Auguste was but three years old.

At that time the urban layout of Paris had not yet been disrupted by the transformations wrought by Baron Haussmann, who superimposed on the narrow lanes of the historic city from 1853 a modern mesh of scenic boulevards and large star-shaped squares. The Parisian road system was thus the tiny, fragmented one of medieval origin, and in the narrow lanes radiating from the Tuileries Palace (destroyed during the Commune) children gathered to play together in the open air. Pierre-Auguste - "Auguste" for his mother, who hated the unpronounceability of "Pierre Renoir," a name with certainly too many Rs - actually spent a happy and carefree childhood, and when he began attending elementary school at the Brothers of the Christian Schools he revealed two unexpected talents. First, he possessed a sweet and melodious voice, so much so that his teachers pressed for him to spend time in the choir of Saint-Sulpice Church, under the guidance of chapel master Charles Gounod. Gounod was a firm believer in the boy's singing potential and, in addition to offering him free singing lessons, even went so far as to strive for him to join the chorus of the Opéra, one of the world's largest opera houses.

His father, however, took a different view. When it rained, little Pierre-Auguste to kill time stole his tailor's chalks and with them gave free rein to his imagination, drawing family members, dogs, cats and other depictions that continue to this day to populate children's graphic achievements. Daddy Léonard on the one hand would have liked to scold his son, but on the other hand he noticed that little Pierre with his chalks gave life to very beautiful drawings, to such an extent that he decided rather to inform his wife and buy him notebooks and pencils, despite their cost, which was very high in nineteenth-century Paris. So when Gounod pressured the little boy to join the liturgical choir, Léonard preferred to decline his albeit generous proposal and encouraged his son's artistic talent, hoping that he would become a good porcelain decorator, a typical Limoges activity. An enthusiastic self-taught artist, Renoir himself proudly cultivated his artistic talents and, in 1854 (he was but thirteen years old), entered as an apprentice painter in a porcelain factory, rue du Temple, thus crowning his father's ambitions. Here the young Pierre-Auguste decorated porcelain with floral compositions, and then with experience also tried his hand at more complex compositions, such as the portrait of Marie-Antoinette: by selling the various artifacts at three pennies a piece Renoir managed to accumulate a good sum of money, and his hopes of finding employment at the prestigious Sèvres manufactory (this was his highest ambition at the time) were more palpable and alive than ever.

Early years as a painter

Not everything went smoothly, however: in 1858, in fact, the Lévy firm declared bankruptcy. Left without work, Renoir found himself forced to work on his own, helping his engraver brother paint cloth and fans and decorating a café on rue Dauphine. Although there are no more traces left of these works, we know that Renoir enjoyed great popularity, and in this he was certainly facilitated by the versatility of his talent and, above all, by his innate taste for artistic types that were naturally appealing to the public, which in fact approved of his works from the very beginning. He also became appreciated when he painted sacred subjects for the merchant Gilbert, a maker of tents for missionaries with whom he had found temporary employment.

Renoir, though cheered by these successes, never rested on his laurels and continued undaunted in his studies. In his breaks, in fact, he used to stroll through the halls of the Louvre museum, where he could admire the works of Rubens, Fragonard and Boucher: of the former he greatly appreciated the mastery in the rendering of the highly expressive flesh tones, while the latter two fascinated him with the delicacy and fragrance of the chromatic matter. Since 1854, moreover, he had been attending evening classes at the École de Dessin et d'Arts décoratifs, meeting there the painter Émile Laporte, who urged him to devote himself to painting more systematically and continuously. It was during this period, in fact, that Renoir matured his conviction to become a painter, and in April 1862 he decided to invest his savings by enrolling at the École des Beaux-Arts and, at the same time, entering the studio of the painter Charles Gleyre.

Gleyre was a painter who colored David's classicism with romantic melancholia" and who, following a well-established practice, welcomed some 30 students into his private studio, so as to make up for the conspicuous deficiencies of the academic system. Renoir here had the opportunity to practice the study and reproduction of living models, the use of geometric perspective and drawing. He, however, possessed a quick, brisk, almost effervescent stroke that was ill-matched with Gleyre's rigid academicism.Renoir, however, did not care for it, and when the master rebuked his practice of "painting for fun," he shrewdly retorted, "If you did not amuse me please believe that I would not paint at all." This was a hallmark of his poetics, even of his maturity, which we will explore in more detail in the Style section.

Beyond the benefits he derived from his discipleship with Gleyre, the meeting with Alfred Sisley, Fréderic Bazille, and Claude Monet, painters who, like him, found mere academic discipline inadequate and mortifying, was especially crucial to Renoir's pictorial maturation. Feeling oppressed by the claustrophobia of the ateliers, the group of young men decided to follow Charles-François Daubigny's example and, in April 1863, they decided to travel together to Chailly-en-Bière, on the edge of the pristine forest of Fontainebleau, so as to work in the open air, strictly en plein air, with a more direct approach to nature.

In 1864 Gleyre closed his studio for good, and at the same time Renoir brilliantly passed his exams at the Academy, thus concluding his artistic apprenticeship. Thus it was that, in the spring of 1865, he moved with Sisley, Monet and Camille Pissarro to the village of Marlotte, finding lodging in the cozy inn of Mère Anthony. Important was his friendship with Lise Tréhot, a woman who made her entrance into the painter's artistic autobiography quite overbearingly: her likenesses are in fact recognizable in many of Renoir's works, such as Lisa with Umbrella, Gypsy, Woman of Algiers and Parisians in Algerian Costume. In the meantime, the painter, plagued by an economic situation that was anything but prosperous, moved first to Sisley's home, and then to the atelier on the rue Visconti in Bazille, from which he received hospitality and moral support. The cohabitation was very happy and the two worked briskly, in daily contact. Evidence of this is the portrait that Bazille made of Renoir (this is the image that appears in the introductory section of the page) and the painting executed by Renoir, depicting Bazille at his easel intent on painting a still life.

The association with Bazille, in fact, was crucial. With him, when the sun had set and the gas light was insufficient to continue painting, he began frequenting the Café Guerbois on the rue de Batignolles, a renowned gathering place for artists and literati. During the chats that took place at the café, the painters, led by Manet and his writer friend Émile Zola, matured in their purpose to capture the heroism of modern society, without taking refuge in the depiction of historical themes. Within the Café Guerbois this effervescent coterie of painters, writers and art lovers also elaborated on the idea of making themselves known as a group of "independent" artists, thus breaking free from the official circuit. While adhering to the intentions of his friends, Renoir did not disdain the Salons and in 1869 participated in them with Gypsy. Thanks to the social opportunities afforded by the Café Guerbois, moreover, Renoir was comfortable intensifying his relations with Monet, with whom he established a fervent, even fraternal understanding. The two, in fact, loved to paint together, in the sign of a strong technical and iconographic coincidence, often intervening on the same motif: famous is their visit to the island of Croissy on the Seine, which they visited and portrayed in 1869, working side by side, thus resulting in two separate paintings (Renoir's is La Grenouillère). Also at the Café Guerbois, Renoir also met Henri Fantin-Latour, a painter who at that time was laying out a painting called Atelier de Batignolles in which he brilliantly foreshadowed the birth of the Impressionist group, which was taking off at that time.


This was a period during which Renoir, though plagued by a chronic lack of money, spent a gay and carefree life in the pursuit of pictorial experimentation and life en plein air. His artistic production, however, suffered a violent setback in the summer of 1870, with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. Renoir, too, was unfortunately called to arms and enlisted in a regiment of cuirassiers: in this capacity he went first to Bordeaux and then to Vic-en-Bigorre, in the Pyrenees, with the specific task of training horses (which he was assigned despite having practically no experience in this regard). With the surrender of Sedan, the artist returned to Paris and, after moving to a new studio on the rive gauche (the old one was risky because of the bombings), was issued with a passport with which the "citizen Renoir" was officially authorized to practice the arts in public. Despite a brief bout of dysentery he had during his military experience, Renoir emerged from the conflict virtually unscathed: nonetheless, this was an absolutely disastrous period for him. Indeed, the conflict gave rise to chaos and disorder, which, culminating in the dramatic experience of the Paris Commune, certainly did nothing to help young artists find their way: indeed, Renoir's generation-who, embittered, opened up to a messy, bohemian life-met with nothing but hostility and resistance from official art critics. What is more, Renoir was also afflicted by the bereavement of Bazille who, having left as a volunteer in August 1870, perished in the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande. With the tragic death of Bazille, the dearest friend with whom he had shared his early ateliers, early enthusiasms and early failures, Renoir was shaken by violent jolts of regret and indignation and seemed to detach himself permanently from his youth.

Despite this difficult period, Renoir continued to paint-as, moreover, he had always done-and irreversibly approached Impressionist poetics. With Monet and Manet he retreated to Argenteuil, a village that definitively converted him to en plein air: witness the Vele ad Argenteuil, a canvas where the palette lightens and the brushstrokes are short and coruscating, according to a manner that can be defined as properly Impressionist. His Impressionist turn was formalized by joining the "Société anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs," a society established at Pissarro's suggestion (Monet, Sisley, Degas, Berthe Morisot and others were also members) with a view to rallying money to organize independently run exhibitions. The first of these exhibitions, set up on April 15, 1874, in the premises of the photographer Nadar at No. 35 boulevard des Capucines, caused Renoir great embarrassment, as he found himself with the uncomfortable task of choosing the exhibition route among the various works. It was a very arduous task since, despite the commonality of intentions, the painters present at the first exhibition in 1874 were characterized by a marked disorganicity: "It is enough to compare the works of Monet and Degas: the former is essentially a landscape painter interested in the rendering of light effects with decisive and synthetic brushstrokes, the latter a follower of Ingres' linearism, sensitive to the representation of interiors depicted with compositional cuts that recall the photographs of the time" (Giovanna Rocchi).

Shortly before the opening of the exhibition Renoir would admit, "We had but one idea, to exhibit, to show everywhere our canvases." In the Impressionists' exhibition, therefore, he saw an excellent opportunity to reveal himself to the general public and therefore exhibited some of his best works, such as The Dancer, The Parisian Girl, and The Box. The exhibition, unfortunately, resolved for the most part into a bitter fiasco, but this was not totally true for Renoir. If Monet was definitively panned by critics, Renoir was acknowledged as having a certain ingenuity: "Too bad that the painter who also has a certain taste for color, does not draw better," Louis Leroy would comment. Despite the harshness of some criticisms, in any case, the exhibition was of fundamental importance since it was on that occasion that it came the manner of Renoir and his companions was defined for the first time as "Impressionist," because it is a style that does not intend to describe the landscape veristically, but prefers to capture the luminous fleetingness of a moment, an impression that is totally different and autonomous from those immediately preceding and following it. If most reviewers harshly criticized this peculiarity, others (though few) were able to recognize its innovative charge and the fresh immediacy with which the luministic effects were rendered. Jules-Antoine Castagnary, very bravely, was lavish with praise for this particular stylistic choice:

Although the critics took a less than destructive tone toward Renoir, financially the 1874 exhibition was a total failure, and by no means resolved the painter's financial uncertainties. This, however, was not enough to dampen the group's enthusiasm, and so Renoir - more inflamed than ever - continued to paint with his friends, animated by a spirit of goliardic involvement. Even Manet, who never wanted to associate with the group of Impressionists, greatly appreciated Renoir's daring experiments and, seeing him once painting out of the corner of his eye, whispered to Monet the following sentence, aping the art critics of the time: "He has no talent, that boy! You who are his friend, tell him to give up painting!" The specter of financial ruin, however, was always around the corner, and for this reason in 1875 Renoir organized with painter Berthe Morisot a public auction at the Hôtel Drouot, with dealer Paul Durand-Ruel as art expert. The initiative, however, had unsuccessful, if not disastrous, outcomes: many works were sold out, if not bought back, and public resentment reached such high peaks that Renoir found himself forced to call in the police to prevent disputes from degenerating into brawls.

Also present at the exhibition, however, was Victor Chocquet, a modest customs official with a passion for Delacroix, who immediately admired Renoir's painting, to which he was bound by affectionate respect and sincere enthusiasm. In addition to supporting the Impressionists financially and defending them from the low blows of critics, Chocquet came to own as many as eleven paintings by Renoir, the most significant of which is undoubtedly the Portrait of Madame Chocquet. With official portraiture Renoir amassed a considerable fortune, which he earmarked for the purchase of a house-studio in Montmartre, and consecrated his professional achievement, so much so that a small but highly respectable circle of amateurs and collectors began to form around him. Durand-Ruel also intensified his relations with Renoir, betting with flair and courage on his œuvre, and the publisher Charpentier, enchanted by his paintings, introduced him to his wife's salon, which was assiduously frequented by the city's best literary and intellectual elite (Flaubert, Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, Jules and Edmond de Goncourt, Turgenev and Victor Hugo were practically at home there). Despite his success as a portraitist of the Parisian world and war, Renoir did not completely abandon the practice of en plein air, with which he produced Bal au moulin de la Galette in 1876, one of the paintings to which his name has remained inextricably linked. The Bal au moulin de la Galette was presented to the Parisian public at the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877, the last one that saw the old friends of the time (Cézanne, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Monet, Degas) reunite: after this fateful year, in fact, the group became progressively less cohesive, and then finally broke up.

The Beautiful Country

In the late 1870s Renoir was indeed moved by a profound creative restlessness, exacerbated by the various disagreements that had arisen with his friends, who accused him of prostituting his art for the sake of celebrity: we will discuss this in more detail in the Style section. Renoir, on the other hand, also felt profoundly the need to travel and change his air: after all, it was the year 1879 and in his thirty-eight years of life he had only visited Paris and the Seine Valley. For this reason, favored also by his now prosperous economic situation, he decided to travel to Algiers in 1880, following in the footsteps of his beloved Delacroix, who also traveled to North Africa in 1832. Back in France he was also invited to England by his friend Duret, although he was forced to decline, because at that time he was "struggling with flowering trees, with women and children, and I don't want to see anything else." The reason for this "struggle" is to be found in Aline Charigot, a woman whom the master portrayed in his famous Canoeists' Breakfast: Renoir, also driven by the need to settle down permanently, would later marry her in 1890.

Even more fruitful was the trip he took to Italy in 1882. If the Latin etymology of the word "vacation" (vacare) suggests a delightful "emptiness" in which rhythms slow down, the concept of vacation for Renoir on the contrary consisted of painting all the time and, at the same time, interrogating the art museums he encountered along the way. Italy, moreover, was a much sought-after destination for the painter, who until then had only been able to get to know it through the Renaissance works on display in the Louvre and through the fiery descriptions of friends who had visited it. He, in fact, when he was a student did not compete for the Prix de Rome, a scholarship that guaranteed the winners a training trip to the Bel Paese, so as to worthily crown their years of study in France, and because of insufficient economic support he did not even think of traveling to Italy by his own means, as did, for example, Manet and Degas. The "journey of maturity" to Italy and contact with the immense cultural deposits of the Renaissance, in any case, was a harbinger of important innovations and "caesuras" (a term often used by the painter) in the art of Renoir, who once he became an old man would confess, "1882 was a great date in my evolution." "The problem with Italy is that it is too beautiful," he would add, "Italians have no merit in having created great works in painting. It was enough for them to look around. Italian streets are filled with pagan gods and biblical characters. Every woman nursing a child is a Madonna by Raphael!" The extraordinariness of the stay in the Bel Paese is condensed in a beautiful phrase Renoir addressed to a friend, to whom he confided, "One always returns to one's first loves, but with an extra note."

The Italian tour began in Venice: Renoir was literally bewitched not only by the art of Carpaccio and Tiepolo (Titian and Veronese were nothing new since he had already admired them de visu at the Louvre), but also by the charm of the Lagoon and its peculiarities, and he immediately took care to capture the atmospheric identity between air, water and light that characterized those places, described in his paintings with great inquisitive zeal. After hasty stops in Padua and Florence he finally reached Rome, where he was struck by the persuasive violence of the Mediterranean light. It was in the Urbe, moreover, that his admiration for the art of the old masters, especially Raphael Sanzio, exploded in him: of the Urbino, in fact, Renoir had admired the frescoes at the Villa Farnesina, "admirable for simplicity and grandeur." The last important stop on his Italian tour was the Gulf of Naples, where he admired the chromatic enchantments of the island of Capri and discovered the wall paintings of Pompeii, proudly displayed in the Neapolitan city's archaeological museum. He also finally pushed on to Palermo, where he met the great German musician Richard Wagner and honored him with a portrait. The Italian trip had extraordinary implications for his pictorial maturation, culminating in the creation of the Great Bathers: of this stylistic evolution, as usual, we shall discuss in detail in the Style section.

Last years

By the turn of the twentieth century Renoir was officially recognized as one of Europe's most distinguished and multifaceted artists. His fame, moreover, had been definitively established with the major retrospective organized in 1892 by Durand-Ruel (one hundred and twenty-eight works were exhibited there, including Bal au moulin de la Galette and The Rowers' Breakfast) and with the dazzling success at the 1904 Salon d'Automne: even the French state, hitherto distrustful of him, bought his works, and in 1905 he was even awarded the Legion of Honor. Very feeble, on the other hand, were his relations with the group of Impressionists, which had by then disintegrated: of the various artists of the old guard, in fact, only Claude Monet, by then retired tired and ill to his villa in Giverny, and Edgar Degas, almost blind but nevertheless very active, continued to paint.

Renoir, too, began to be threatened by serious health problems, and around the age of fifty the first symptoms of the devastating rheumatoid arthritis that would plague him until his death, causing complete paralysis of his lower limbs and semiparalysis of his upper limbs. It was a decidedly aggressive disease, as noted by Annamaria Marchionne:

Despite the unprecedented ferocity of the disease Renoir continued undaunted to paint and was even willing to tie his brushes to his steadiest hand so as to return to his sighed beginnings and "put color on canvas for fun." Precisely because of progressive infirmity in the early years of the twentieth century, he moved on the advice of doctors to Cagnes-sur-Mer, on the French Riviera, where in 1908 he bought the Collettes estate, hidden among the foliage of olive and orange groves and perched on a hill within sight of the old village and the sea. Although he groaned continually with pain, Renoir benefited from the mild climate of the Mediterranean region and the comforts of provincial bourgeois life continued to exercise his painting technique unceasingly, and fought with all his might the obstacles posed by deforming arthritis. His creative energies were inexorably depleted, partly due to the death of his beloved wife Aline in 1915: he could still, however, dissertate brilliantly on art, and he attracted around him a group of ardent young people. (Less fruitful was his encounter, in 1919, with Modigliani who, objecting to Renoir's painting and thus to the pictorial forms of some of the models portrayed by the master ("I don't like those buttocks!"), left by slamming the studio door. Renoir finally died on December 3, 1919, at his villa in Cagnes. According to his son Jean, his last famous words, spoken the night before he died as the brushes were being removed from his shrunken fingers, were, "I think I am beginning to understand something." He is buried with his entire family in Essoyes cemetery in Burgundy.

Renoir: craft painter

Renoir was one of the most convinced and spontaneous interpreters of the Impressionist movement. A prodigiously prolific artist, with no less than five thousand canvases to his credit and an equally large number of drawings and watercolors, Renoir was also distinguished by his multifaceted nature, so much so that we can distinguish numerous periods in his pictorial output. It is Renoir himself, in each case, who speaks of his method of making art:

As this quote makes clear, Renoir related to painting in a thoroughly anti-intellectualistic manner, and although he too was impatient with academic conventionalisms, he never contributed to the cause of Impressionism with theoretical reflections or abstract statements. In fact, he repudiated all forms of intellectualism and confessed a vivid faith in the concrete experience of painting-making, which is objectified in the unique expressive medium of brush and palette: "working as a good worker," "worker of painting," "making good painting" are indeed phrases that recur frequently in his epistolary. This decisive instance of concreteness is reiterated by Renoir himself in his preface to the French edition of Cennino Cennini's Book of Art (1911), where in addition to providing practical advice and suggestions for aspiring painters he states that "it might seem that we are very far removed from Cennino Cennini and painting, and yet it is not so, since painting is a trade like carpentry and iron-working, and is subject to the same rules." The critic Octave Mirbeau, even, points to the causes of Renoir's greatness precisely in this peculiar conception of painting:


Because of the aforementioned motivations Renoir was never animated by the fierce idealism of a Monet or a Cézanne and, on the contrary, often resorted to the example of the old masters. Compared to his colleagues, Renoir felt himself "heir to a living force accumulated over generations" (Benedetti) and for this reason was more willing to take inspiration from the legacy of the past. Even in his maturity, in fact, he never ceased to regard the museum as the congenial place for the training of an artist, recognizing its ability to teach "that taste for painting which nature alone cannot give us."

Renoir's work stands as a meeting point (or clash) between very disparate artistic experiences. Of Rubens he was greatly attracted by the vigor and full-bodied brushstrokes and the masterful rendering of the highly expressive flesh tones, while of the French Rococo painters - Fragonard and Boucher first among them - he greatly appreciated the delicacy and fragrance of the chromatic matter. A decisive role in Renoir's artistic reflection is also played by the Barbizon painters, from whom he borrowed a taste for the plein air and the habit of assessing correspondences between landscapes and moods. Also important was the influence of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, a veritable "black beast" for his colleagues, who saw in him a symbol of the sterility of academic practices.Renoir, on the contrary, was much fascinated by his style, in which he believed he perceived the throb of life, and drew from it an almost carnal pleasure ("Secretly I enjoyed the beautiful belly of the Source and the neck and arms of Madame Rivière"). Of Raphael Sanzio, a very important influence especially in his late maturity, we will discuss in the section The Style aigre.

In Renoir's artistic universe, then, a characteristic place of prominence belongs to Gustave Courbet. A man animated by a strong determination and combative charisma, Courbet not only thematized what was hitherto considered unworthy of pictorial representation, he also succeeded in transferring pieces of matter to canvas. His is a raw, heavy painting of an entirely terrestrial force: the canvases of the master of Ornans, in fact, are endowed with their own, powerful physicality, and are substantiated by a very raw pictorial matter in which the colors are rich in thickness and are often applied by strokes of the palette knife, precisely to achieve effects of "concreteness" on the canvas. This expressive vigor suggested to Renoir an unknown freedom in his treatment of pictorial matter, which would also emerge clearly when the painter's artistic research turned to new methodologies.

The painter of joie de vivre

Renoir's work is marked by the most authentic joie de vivre. Throughout his life, in fact, Renoir was animated by a genuine enthusiasm for life, and he never ceased to marvel at the infinite wonders of creation, relishing its beauty to the fullest and feeling the spasmodic desire to transfer to canvas, with a sweet and intense emotional participation, the memory of every visual perception that had struck him. Critic Piero Adorno, in order to emphasize how Renoir related to every aspect of life, whether large or small, proposed the following syllogism: "everything that exists lives, everything that lives is beautiful, everything that is beautiful deserves to be painted" (hence, everything that exists is worthy of pictorial representation).

All of his paintings, from his earliest works in Gleyre's studio to his last works in Cagnes, actually capture the gentler and more ephemeral aspects of life, rendering them with fluid and vibrant brushstrokes and a soothing and joyful color and luministic texture. "I like those paintings that make me want to go inside and take them for a ride": with these words, the painter explicitly invites the viewers of his paintings to interact with them with an enjoyment akin to that which he himself had experienced in painting them. That of "amusement" is one of the key concepts of Renoir's poetics: he, in fact, loved "to put colors on the canvas to amuse himself," to the point that probably no other painter had ever felt such an inescapable urge to paint in order to express his feelings ("the brush is a sort of organic extension, a participating appendage of his sensitive faculties," Maria Teresa Benedetti observes). Exemplary is the answer he gave with youthful sincerity to the master Gleyre, who conceived painting as a rigorous formal exercise, to be carried out with seriousness and responsibility and certainly not by indulging in figures of ease. To the astonished master, who scrambled him by reminding him of the dangers involved in "painting for fun," he would in fact retort, "If it did not amuse me I beg you to believe that I would not paint at all."

To recap, this overflowing cheerfulness and acceptance of the world perceived as a pure expression of the joy of life also shines through in his paintings. This is also achieved through a consistent series of important stylistic devices: especially before the aigre turn, his paintings are light and vaporous, imbued with a living, pulsating light, and they are swept through the colors with joyous vivacity. Renoir then fragments the light into small patches of color, each of which is deposited on the canvas with a great delicacy of touch, to such an extent that the entire work seems to vibrate in the viewer's eyes, and to become something limpid and tangible, thanks in part to the skillful arrangements between complementary colors (distributed according to a properly Impressionist technique).

This creative effervescence addresses numerous pictorial genres. His work first and foremost refers to the "heroism of modern life" that Charles Baudelaire had identified as the theme of art that can be said to be authentic: for this reason, Renoir - as well as his colleagues - understand that to achieve egregious results in "history painting" one must not take hypocritical refuge in the history of past centuries, but rather confront the era contemporary to them in a spontaneous, fresh but vigorous manner, following the example of the older Édouard Manet. We reproduce below Maria Teresa Benedetti's commentary, which is also significant for an easier understanding of Renoir's relationship with joie de vivre:

The aigre style

A drastic stylistic shift occurred following the 1881 trip to Italy. Feeling burdened by the Impressionist choice, in fact, Renoir in that year decided to travel to the Bel Paese to carefully study the art of the Renaissance masters, on the trail of a pictorial topos borrowed from the revered Ingres. The Italian sojourn, in fact, in addition to further broadening his figurative horizons entailed important consequences for his way of painting. What struck him were the wall paintings of Pompeii and, above all, the frescoes "admirable in simplicity and grandeur" of Raphael's Farnesina, in which he discovered the aesthetic perfection that he had been unable to achieve with the Impressionist experience. With melancholy enthusiasm he would confess to his friend Marguerite Charpentier:

If Raphaelesque art fascinated Renoir with its quiet grandeur, diffused light, and plastically defined volumes, from the Pompeian paintings he derived a taste for those scenes that skillfully blend the ideal and real dimensions, as is the case in the frescoes depicting heraldic, mythological, amorous, and Dionysian feats and illusionistic architecture that graced the domus of the Vesuvian city. He himself says:

At the sight of Renaissance models Renoir experienced strong spiritual discomfort, saw himself stripped of his certainties, even worse, discovered himself artistically ignorant. Indeed, following his reception of Raphael's frescoes and Pompeian paintings, he was convinced that he had never really possessed the technique of painting and drawing, and that he had now exhausted the resources offered by Impressionist technique, especially with regard to the incidence of light on nature: "I had arrived at the extreme point of Impressionism and had to find that I no longer knew how to paint or draw," he would sadly note in 1883.

To resolve this impasse Renoir broke away from Impressionism and inaugurated his "aigre" or "ingresque" phase. Reconciling the Raphaelesque model with the Ingresque model, known and loved since his early days, Renoir decided to overcome that vibrant instability of visual perception of the Impressionist matrix and to approach a more solid and incisive painting. In order to emphasize the constructiveness of forms, in particular, he recovered a sharp and precise drawing, a "taste attentive to volumes, to the solidity of outlines, to the monumentality of images, to a progressive chastity of color" (StileArte), in the sign of a less episodic and more systematic synthesis of the pictorial matter. He, moreover, abandoned the plein air and returned to elaborating his creations in the ateliers, this time, however, assisted by a rich figurative background. By the same process in his oeuvre landscapes were seen more and more sporadically and a taste for human figures, especially female nudes, developed. This was a veritable iconographic constant in his oeuvre-present both in his early days and during his Impressionist experiments-but it asserted itself with greater vigor during his aigre phase, in the sign of an absolute primacy of the figure, rendered with vivid and delicate brushstrokes capable of accurately capturing the joyful mood of the subject and the opulence of his complexion.

Finally, his son Jean Renoir offers a very detailed physiognomic and character portrait of his father, also outlining his dress habits and the look indicative of his character at once tender and ironic:

Renoir's work suffered ups and downs in the esteem of critics during the first thirty years of his activity. Despite the timid appreciations of Bürger and Astruc, who first noted his qualities, Renoir's pictorial production faced open hostility from critics and the French public, who gave little credence to the new Impressionist researches and continued to prefer the academic manner. Émile Zola mentions this in his novel L'opera, where he reports that "the laughter that was heard was no longer that stifled by the ladies' handkerchiefs, and the men's bellies expanded when they gave vent to their hilarity. It was the contagious laughter of a crowd that had come to be entertained, gradually getting excited, bursting out laughing at the slightest thing, driven to hilarity as much by beautiful things as by execrable ones."

In spite of this, Renoir was able to enjoy the support of a substantial body of supporters, first and foremost Zola himself and Jules-Antoine Castagnary. Even more substantial appreciations came from Georges Rivière and Edmond Renoir in 1877 and 1879. We quote them below:

Initially Renoir's oeuvre was in fact much opposed by critics, despite a fair amount of popularity during the intense portrait season. Indeed, it can be said that his paintings at the end of the nineteenth century merited a divided attitude. Diego Martelli in 1880 spoke of him in the terms of a "delicate artist," but of the same opinion were not his fellow artists: the Impressionist experiments, in fact, initially had in Italy the disruptive scope typical of novelties too early, and did not find fertile ground where they could spread nimbly. This contradiction also occurred overseas, so much so that on the one hand the Sun in 1886 accused Renoir of being a degenerate pupil of Gleyre, and on the other hand American amateurs vied to buy his works, prey to a veritable collector's enthusiasm.

Renoir's cult revived from the early twentieth century onward. The 1892 monographic exhibition at the Durand-Ruel gallery and Renoir's massive participation in the Salon d'Automne in 1904 (as many as forty-five works) contributed significantly to reaffirming his renown. This success was accompanied by episodes of profound adherence to his art: one need only think of Maurice Gangnat, owner of one of the largest collections of the painter's works, the Fauves and Henri Matisse, for whom visits to Renoir at his home in Cagnes assented to veritable pilgrimages, or even Maurice Denis, Federico Zandomeneghi, Armando Spadini and Felice Carena (in this sense, as Giovanna Rocchi observed, "Renoir's fortunes far more figurative than written"). Art critics, however, could not remain indifferent to such success either, and in 1911 the first systematic study of Renoir's pictorial production by Julius Meier-Grafe was published. From this time on Renoir was the subject of a real rediscovery by art critics: in 1913, on the occasion of an exhibition at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery, the first, monumental catalog of Renoir's paintings was published with a preface edited by Mirbeau (who considered Renoir's biographical and artistic affairs as "a lesson in happiness"). After this reborn interest, initial repulsions were overcome and research on the painter's technique and stylistic developments multiplied, with the publication of several pioneering studies, including those edited by André (1919), Ambroise Vollard (1919), Fosca (1923), Duret (1924), Besson (1929 and 1938), and Barnes and de Mazia (1933). These contributions, deserving above all for their earliness, were promptly followed by a number of critical interventions by Fosca and Roger-Marx, a colossal study by Drucker (1944) and Rewald's (1946) in-depth study of Renoir's relations with the French cultural context of the late 19th century, translated into Italian in 1949 with a preface by Longhi. Also very significant were the exhibitions held at the Orangerie in Paris in 1933 and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1937. Special mention should also be made of the studies by Delteil (1923) and Rewald (1946), which focused mainly on the painter's graphic production, and the research conducted by Cooper, Rouart, Pach, Perruchot and Daulte regarding the chronology of the various works.


  1. Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  2. Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  3. ^ a b Renoir. Dalle collezioni del Musée d’Orsay e dell’Oragerie, su issuu.com, Skira, 2013.
  4. ^ Nicoletti, p. 4.
  5. ^ Nicoletti, p. 5.
  6. Vaughan, Malcolm (1966). «Renoir: Enamorado de la vida». Los grandes pintores y sus obras maestras. Selecciones del Reader´s Digest (México): 158-161.
  7. « https://archives.yvelines.fr/rechercher/archives-en-ligne/correspondances-du-musee-departemental-maurice-denis/correspondances-du-musee-maurice-denis », sous le nom RENOIR Pierre Auguste (consulté le 12 février 2022)
  8. ^ Read, Herbert: The Meaning of Art, page 127. Faber, 1931.
  9. ^ Renoir, Jean: Renoir, My Father, pages 57–67. Collins, 1962.
  10. ^ a b Jennings, Guy (2003). History & Techniques of the Great Masters: Renoir. London: Quantum Publishing Ltd. p. 6. ISBN 1861604696.
  11. ^ Vollard, Ambroise: Renoir, An Intimate Record, pages 24–29. Knopf, 1925.

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