Pierre Auguste Renoir Biography

Paintings by Pierre Auguste Renoir have become synonymous with bright color, soft light and luxurious, rounded figures. Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party is one of the most popular paintings ever created, perfectly capturing the leisure life of the French in the 1880s. Renoir paintings are joyful, warm and kind, much like the man himself.


Pierre Auguste Renoir was born in 1841. His mother was a dressmaker, and his father a tailor. The couple had seven children; Renoir was the sixth. As a child, Renoir demonstrated a remarkable talent for drawing and painting. At age 13, he was apprenticed to a porcelain factory, where he painted plates. Soon he began to expand and paint fans and cloth panels. During his evenings and spare time, Renoir expanded his artistic education by studying famous paintings at the Louvre. He lived simply, saving his money when he could. In 1862, his frugality paid off and Renoir could afford to take evening classes in painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.


While enrolled in school, Renior met and formed tight friendships with Alfred Sisley and Claude Monet. The three would meet and discuss their paintings, and their artistic aspirations. The artists found they were all attracted to the idea of painting light, demonstrating how light interacts with objects and changes them. They began to paint outside, directly from nature, using quick and light brushstrokes, attempting to capture the light before it changed. This Impressionist movement, as it would come to be known, would be profoundly influential.

While the Impressionists felt they had stumbled upon a new medium of painting that would be universal and true, the critics disparaged the movement. The artists formed their own collective, and began to show their works in independent group shows, free of the Salon. Renoir paintings diverge from other Impressionist painters of this period through his use of the human form. Instead of painting simple landscapes, Renoir included shimmering foliage highlighting the luminous skin of his models. Since Renoir paintings demonstrated his ability to render people realistically and flatteringly, he was able to obtain work as a portrait painter. In the painting, Madame Charpentier with her Children, the family is rendered with loving care. The severe black and white of the mother's clothing is echoed in the fur of the dog, while the playful, cheerful children pop in their lacy, blue dresses. This is an informal portrait, full of life and tenderness. As a result of his interactions with the Charpentier family in 1878, Renoir was able to insinuate himself into the middle classes, painting portraits to feed himself.

Renoir began to tire of the Impressionist style. In The Luncheon of the Boating Party completed in 1881, Renoir felt that the style forced him to use a hazy, filtered focus. He thought his figures looked blurry and out of synch. While his brushstrokes are evident here, and the edges of figures to tend to meld into one another, modern viewers do not agree that this painting is not a success. The warm, glowing light, the interaction of the models and the casual nature of the poses make the viewer feel a part of the scene. Regardless, for Renoir, the Boating Party's completion was an occasion to reevaluate and change his style.


In 1881 and 1882, Renoir traveled to Italy, Provence and Algeria. This would be a turning point in the Renoir biography. As a result of this trip, Renoir began to reject the Impressionist movement. Where previous paintings by Renoir utilized contrasting paint colors, placed side by side, in a true Impressionist style, Renoir began to feel that this technique didn't allow him to truly capture the warmth and glow of human skin. Studying the Renaissance masters just confirmed this view. Additionally, he also began to think about the use of black in paintings. Impressionist painters typically did not employ black in their paintings, but Renoir began to learn how black, applied judiciously, could allow other colors to pop and shine.

In the 1880s, Renoir's finances continued to improve. He was married, and began to paint his young wife with regularity. The two took several trips to the south of France, for the warm weather. Here, another revolution in Renoir paintings would take place. He would begin to focus, almost exclusively, on paintings of young women. In Sleeping Bather, from 1897, a young woman is painted in loving detail with multiple hues of color making up her skin. While the brushstrokes are evident here, the focus is on smoothness and warmth. The color palette is warm with yellows and oranges, far from the light pastel palette of the Impressionists. Pierre Auguste Renoir paintings from this period are quite different from his Impressionist works, but they still contain the generosity of feeling and warmth the artist was always known for.


In 1894, Renoir began to suffer from arthritis, and would experience extreme pain in his joints. He moved his family to the south of France, where the warm weather made his pain less severe. Renoir continued to paint during this period, even when the pain became so severe that he had to work with his paintbrush taped to his stiff and painful fingers. He continued to paint members of his family and household staff, including many nude images. Renoir would often claim he worked best around women, particularly if they sang while he worked.

In 1915, Renoir's son, Jean, was injured during the war and Renoir's wife went to visit him in the hospital. She would die upon her return to the Renoir household. He would be devastated by her death, and his health would continue to decline. He was unable to walk near the end of his life, although he continued to paint and study. Several months before his death, friends pushed him in his wheelchair through the Louvre, where he was able to see one of his own paintings, Portrait of Mme Georges Charpentier, on display. Renoir died in 1919 of heart disease.