Pierre-Auguste Renoir

About the Artist

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c. 1910

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one of the world’s leading Impressionist painters, whose works chronicled modern life in France during,   the last decades of the nineteenth century, and whose style bridged the gap between the Renaissance painters who came before him and the Fauvists and Cubists who came after.

Early Life and Education

Pierre-August Renoir was born in Limoges, France in 1841. His father was a tailor, his mother a seamstress.  Renoir was the couple’s sixth child, although two of their children died in infancy.

The family moved to Paris, close to the Louvre, when Renoir was three, hoping to improve their finances. Renoir attended Catholic school.The family continued to struggle financially, and Renoir was apprenticed to a porcelain painter when he was thirteen. His artistic talent was evident and his employer encouraged him to  take free drawing classes at a city-sponsored art school, run by sculptor Louis-Denis Caillouette. Renoir also used his spare time to copy paintings at the Louvre.

When he was twenty-one, Renoir began attending the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and took classes with Charles Gleyre. It was at Gleyre’s studio that he met other talented students of Gleyre like Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley and, through Monet, he met Camille Pissarro and Paul Cezanne.

Career and Family

Renoir showed a painting, La Esmeralda, inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris, at the annual Paris Salon in 1864. The following year he exhibited a portrait of William Sisley, the father of his friend, Albert. That show led to more portrait commissions, but Renoir’s income was still relatively meager, even though his painting,  Lise with a Parasol, done in 1867, was well-received.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Lise with a Parasol, 1867
Oil on canvas
Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

Political unrest, especially in Paris, led to the Franco-Prussian War. Renoir was drafted in 1870, assigned to a cavalry unit but became too ill, with dysentery, to see combat.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Mme. Charpentier and her children, 1878
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

After the war, Renoir returned to Paris, where he continued to paint. In 1974, he and some of his painter friends, including Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne and Degas arranged a show of their works, independent of the Paris Salon. The show was considered the first Impressionist exhibition, because one of the Paris critics said the works were more like “impressions” of painted subjects than works that had gone before.

Although the first Impressionist exhibition was not a success, Renoir’s works were. The publisher Georges Charpentier and his wife became his patrons and, through them, Renoir was introduced to friends of the Carpentiers’,  from whom he received additional commissions. Renoir’s portrait of Madame Charpentier and her Children, shown at the Paris Salon in 1878, was the turning point that energized his career and provided him with enough funds to allow him to travel and paint in Algeria, Italy and France.

Renoir married Aline Victorian Charigot in 1890. He was forty-nine and she was nearly twenty years younger. Aline was one of Renoir’s favorite models, and they had a child together before their marriage. In the painting Luncheon of the Boating Party, Aline is the woman on the left, seated at a table, playing with a dog.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880–1881
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

The couple had three sons. Their oldest son, Pierre, became an actor.  Claude, their youngest became a ceramic artist and Jean, their middle son became a film director. His film, La Grande Illusion is considered by many film buffs to be one of the finest movies ever made.

Pierre-August Renoir
La Lecture, 1892
Louvre, Paris

Aline cared for Renoir who developed rheumatoid arthritis when he was in his early fifties. He continued to paint, even when he found it difficult to hold a brush. The couple moved a luxurious home that Renoir built for his family in Cagnes-sur-Mer, on the French Riviera, in 1907, hoping that the climate would help ease his discomfort.

He had a stroke in 1912, which left him in a wheelchair. He not only continued to  paint but, with assistance, sculpted, as well. Aline cared for him until her death in 1915. In 1919, the year he died, Renoir was able to visit the Louvre and see his paintings hanging alongside those of the old masters.

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