come to nature with all her theories, and she knocks them all flat."
~Pierre Auguste Renoir
A hedonistic son of a tailor is far from the beginnings of most
world famous artists. But this was the was it was for Pierre Auguste Renoir. As the fourth of five
kids, he was appointed to apprentice at a ceramic studio where he painted designs onto porcelain wares. His dad set this up
when he was thirteen years old because he knew that this work would give him a promising future. Working and living in Paris,
France Renoir would often visit the Louvre. There, he loved to roam the halls and enjoy the artworks on display. When he was
seventeen, mass production took his job. So much for dad’s theory of job security. First he painted hand fans and then
painted blinds that looked like stained glass. By 1862, at the age of twenty one, he saved enough money that he could quit
and go to school at É cole des Beaux-Arts under the Swiss painter, Charles Gleyre. Although a name
most do not know, he taught some of the best or his time. Besides Renoir, he also taught Claude Monet, Frederic Bazille, Alfred Sisley, James Whistler,
and many others. Renoir himself was not that interested in the academic approach of art making, but did get a lot out of the
techniques and compositional studies, as well as the exposure to new friends and their ideas. Two years after entering the
school, he had began sharing a studio space with Bazille. It was at this time Renoir really began to understand the connections
between success in art and success at the Salon. Dealers, critics, and the public thoughts went closely in check with the
outcome at the Salon. But although Renoir professionally needed critics to promote his work, he absolutely hated them. In
1864 he earned tenth place out of one hundred and six accepted works, with his painting Esmeralda Dancing.
But ironically, Renoir hated the work. He got so sick of it and the attention it got that he destroyed it. Over the years
he had several other works accepted into the show.
Being a true hedonist,
Renoir’s major aim in life was having a good time. Some said that he loved his art too much. If the truth be told, he
even thought so. He would be so engrossed in a work that he would work for months on that one work. The longest painting he
created took him a year to finish. But a lot of the fun he lived for went ways in the summer of 1870. The Franco-Prussian
War broke out and many French enlisted to fight. Many, including Renoir’s great friend Frederic Bazille, died. Renoir
himself was training horses for Napoleon’s army in the Pyrenees. The war was over in 1871 and he went back to Paris.
He though highly of his early successes and how he had grown as an artist, as well as the advances in art that his friends
had made. But sadly, only one art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, would show their work. The only paces interested
in showing the work was in England and the United States. They were shut out of the Salon, so the group of friends started
the Salon des Refusé in 1874. It took place at Nader’s red velvet walled photography studio.
Renoir had six works in the show. The next year they held a group auction that was a flop. Renoir sold nineteen paintings
for 2,000 francs, but used the money to buy them all back. In the second Salon des Refusé he had seventeen paintings and in
the 1877 Salon des Refusé he had twenty-one new works including Dance at the Moulin de la Galette.
Northern Paris has a community known as Montmartre. This
strongly art centered area was painted and home to Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and of course, Renoir. In this community is a building called le Moulin de la Galette. Built in 1622, le Moulin de la Galette
was a windmill the was owned by four brothers. Three were killed defending it from Russian at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The last brother
and his son were inside the mill as it was entered by a Russian soldier and the brother shot and killed the Russian. As punishment
his arms and legs are hacked off and tied to each of the four sails on the windmill. The son lived and eventually inherited
the mill and turned it into a dance hall, that sold galettes (a pancake made from ground flour produced within the mill),
thus the name. Every Sunday afternoon, at this location, a dance was hosted for the people of this area. His painting, Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, memoralizes that event. In the painting we see many of
his models from other paintings and some of his artist friends, as well as a self-portrait. This is one of his most important works. He was applying impressionism to the human form. In the work he is not concerned
with form, but, instead, places the focus into the painting surface.
"...A painting must above all be beautiful, loveable, and delightful, something really pretty. There are
enough unpleasant things, we don't need to make new ones."
Dance at the Moulin de la Galette
1876. Oil on canvas. 51½ X 69 in. Musée
d'Orsay, Paris, France.
In one of my favorite Renoir paintings, Le Déjeuner des Canotiers, or The Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir loosens up on the impressionist feel.
Impressionists love the landscape, but Renoir loves the human figure. He was not really a hardcore impressionist, like many
try to classify him. He was above all else an experimentalist. “I have come to the very end of Impressionism
and came to the realization that I could neither draw nor paint. In a word, I had come to a ‘deadlock.‘”
The work was painted from the balcony of the Alphonse Fournaise, now Maison Fournaise, Renoir’s favorite restaurant
on the river island of Chatou. “I can't leave Chatou, because my painting is not finished yet. It
would be nice of you to come down here and have lunch with me. You won't regret the trip, I assure you. There isn't a lovelier
place in all Paris surroundings” Overlooking the Seine River, we again see him use many of his good friends in
the work as models. Painter Gustave Callebotte is seated in the lower right. His future wife, Aline
Charigot, is the young woman holding the dog. He elected to take a trip to Italy, where he visited Naples, Pompeii, and
Sicily. He discovered what he saw as the true masters of art, the Renaissance masters. He was strongly impacted by Raphael Sanzio and began to paint in a Neo Classical style. His work was now a fusion of the impressionistic and the renaissance styles.
He worked on mastering this style for the next thirty years.
Luncheon of the Boating Party
1881. Oil on Canvas. 51 X 68 in. Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, DC., USA.
His first son, Pierre, was born in 1885 and his second was born in 1894. It was about at the
time of the birth of his second son’s birth that his wife’s cousin Gabriella came to live with them. She quickly
became his favorite model. He was also concerned that his drawing skill was not well enough developed, so he was drawing a
lot in the later works and we can see a darker outline, or contour, to there paintings. But this drawing was hard on his fragile
hands that were ravaged by severe arthritis. By 1910 he was confined to a wheelchair. But all the same, he loved to have a
good time and always had a cheery disposition. He would have the paintbrush tied to his gnarled hand so he could work. His
last great work was The Bathers.
Due to his failing health, and more concerning, the punishment that arthritis had done on his
body, he used a device that would move the canvas so he could paint the large canvas used for The Bathers. One of the models
was the red headed beauty, Andrée Hessling. She later married his son Jean.
1918. Oil on Canvas. 26.5 X 32 in. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.
Due to his failing health, and more concerning, the punishment
that arthritis had done on his body, he used a device that would move the canvas so he could paint the large canvas used for
The Bathers. One of the models was the red headed beauty, Andrée Hessling. She later married his son Jean.
Renoir also dabbled in sculpture. This is truly amazing to me.
How a man with severe rheumatoid arthritis even thinks, “Hay, I know! I need to start making sculptures now that my
hands are in constant pain.” The power of art on the artist, is quite a powerful force indeed. He made these sculptures
by aiding and guiding the hand of his studio assistant Richard Guino.
August 1919 saw a big achievement to the ageing Renoir. He witnessed
his painting Portrait of Madame Charpentier, hung in his old stomping ground, the Louvre. He made it home. Less than four months later he died at the age of seventy
Some in the art world saw him as a sellout to the Impressionists.
This man that never painted war, death, or anything even remotely evil is a horrible traitor to the ideals he helped found.
No, I don’t think so. I like to think of Renoir as an artist that was in search of pleasure in art. He always found