It is generally well known that French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir was good friends with fellow Impressionists Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Frédéric Bazille. The four had after all trained together as developing artists at the atelier of Swiss artist Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre in Paris, and had remained in close contact throughout their artistic careers. They discovered and experimented with the en plein air method together, helping to establish what would become known as the Impressionist style, and they also formed the core of the group of artists that gathered under the guidance of Édouard Manet at the Café Guerbois on the Avenue de Clichy in Paris - this group later expanded to include the likes of Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, Armand Guillaumin and Edgar Degas.
At the time of the late 1860s and early 1870s it was Renoir, Monet, Sisley and Bazille who established the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers), which would eventually organise the First Impressionist Exhibition. The point is that Monet, Sisley and Bazille were the closest of Renoir’s Impressionist brethren, and this is reflected in a number of artworks that he produced that featured them as the principle subjects.
Renoir painted portraits of Monet on a number of occasions during his lifetime, and the portraits in a way highlight the different approaches that the two artists took. Monet was focused on the ever-changing patterns in the natural world and was intent on capturing the subtle differences that seasonal changes could bring out in a landscape. Renoir on the other hand was always more focused on the people in his paintings, often including close friends and family members in his compositions. In addition to the well-known 1875 work, Portrait Of Claude Monet, that was exhibited to critical acclaim at the Second Impressionist Exhibition and is currently housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Renoir produced portraits of Madame Monet and of Monet’s young son. The intimacy of the portraits indicates the familiarity and esteem in which Renoir held Monet and as he said himself, “Without him I would have given up.”
Portrait Of Alfred Sisley was an 1868 oil painting that was part of a series of works featuring the artist that Renoir completed that year, including an affectionate portrait of Sisley with Eugénie Lesouezec who would later become his wife. The painting has all the hallmarks of a classic Renoir work – vibrant contrasting colours, delicate brushstrokes and the use of varying levels of focus within the composition that would be adopted by numerous Impressionists in later years. The 1867 Portrait Of Frédéreic Bazille at his easel, shown above, is fascinating in that it links all four artists together. The painting shows Bazille, who was in fact sitting alongside Sisley at the time, painting a still life of some birds placed on a white tablecloth. Renoir, as was his nature, was less interested in the still life than by his friends at work and so he captured Bazille in the process of painting. Wanting to pay tribute to Monet, he painted Monet’s Road To Saint Siméon Farm In Winter on the wall behind Bazille.
For a figure to be included in a Renoir portrait is normally an indication that there was some close connection between them and the artist, and for Renoir, Monet, Sisley and Bazille it is clear that the connection was much more than just a professional relationship. The evidence is in the artwork.