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Renoir, Pierre Auguste (1841-1919)

( Originally Published 1955 )

"Old Master" among the French Impressionist painters. As rebellious a member of the group as any, Renoir throughout his life nevertheless remained faithful to the long tradition of French art and frequently drew inspiration from the great colorists of European painting. Watteau, Chardin, Boucher and Fragonard all seemed to contribute to a new monumental art that drew its scale in part from Rubens and Veronese.

Son of a tailor of Limoges, he passed his apprenticeship painting porcelain, then turned to painting blinds and fans. He saved sufficient money to enter Gleyre's studio in Paris. With his fellow students, Monet, Bazille and Sisley he retired to Chailly near Fontainebleau. Here he met Diaz, followed Courbet and Corot. Such paintings of this period as Diana the Huntress (1867, Washington) show this. Lise (Essen), of the same period, indicates the influence of the newer style of Manet. Then we see a throwback to Delacroix in Woman of Algiers (1870, Washington) in which Renoir went off once again on his frequent tangent of richly inlaid colors. While working with Monet before and after the Franco-Prussian War, Renoir shared in developing the broken color technique that characterizes mature Impressionism (see). A comparison of La Grenouillere by the two artists in 1869 and the Duck Pond which they both did in 1873 shows clearly how the technique grew from large flat patches to a uniform crust. Although the two artists seem remarkably alike in each pair of paintings, in both comparisons Renoir reveals himself as more interested in rich color effects and solidity of form than was Monet. Likewise during the heyday of Impressionism in the 1870's, Renoir preferred figure painting to panorama. He represented the sociable aspect of impressionism; he delighted in rendering gay groups in surroundings rich with sensuous appeal, e.g., The Loge (1874, Courtauld), Moulin de la Galette (1876, Louvre). In contrast to the Japanese qualities brought into Impressionism by Manet and Degas, Renoir revived the Rococo. The elegance of Wattesu and Fragonard stimulated him as it did the poetic sensibilities of the de Goncourt brothers.

While exhibiting in Impressionist shows, Renoir also submitted to the official Salons. And during the dark days of the middle 1870's, his figure painting paid off by bringing him a series of portrait commissions, centered about that of Mme Charpentier and Her Children (Metropolitan), a great success at the Salon of 1879. The following year he went to Italy where he declared himself intoxicated with the works of Raphael (! ) and developed a great admiration for Pompeian wall painting. About 1883 he declared, "I had wrung Impressionism dry and I finally came to the conclusion that I knew neither how to paint nor how to draw." He began to copy Ingres and Renaissance bas-reliefs. From this exercise came the great series of Bathers, beginning with the highly linear one of 1885-87 in Philadelphia. These monumental tendencies were also stimulated by periods spent with Cezanne; his return to traditional values can be seen in subject matter. He painted classical themes in later life and experimented with sculpture. From the time of his marriage in 1881 he developed a domestic genre similar to that of late Fragonard. He painted canvas after canvas of his wife and her cherubic babies, in modern emulation of the Madonna theme. The joie de vivre of his late works belies the physical misery of their painter. He suffered badly from arthritis and about 1900 he settled at Cagnes in the south in order to relieve it. Here he reveled in the Mediterranean atmosphere and colors. Unable to render detail because of the stiffness of his fingers, he had the brushes tied to his hands and in broad strokes he turned out Olympian goddesses in hot, garish colors. "I want a red to be sonorous," he said, "to sound like a bell; if it doesn't turn out that way 1 put on more reds or other colors till I get it."

Promenades Of An Art Impressionist: Renoir
Renoir - At The Moulin De La Galette
Story Of French Painting - Renoir
Renoir @ WebMuseum
Impressionism @ Wikipedia
The Impressionist
History Of French Art - The Impressionists
Modern Painting - The Impressionists And Their Allies

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