Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges, France in 1841 and moved to Paris at the age of three with his parents and siblings (1). During his teenage years, Renoir worked painting porcelain; also striving to improve, he was encouraged to pursue painting, which he dedicated himself to (1). Upon enrollment at the École des Beaux-Arts, Renoir studied with artists such as Claude Monet and others that later became known within the Impressionist movement. While Renoir pursued Impressionism, he strayed away to more traditional styles after trips to Italy and Algeria in the early 1880s, embracing more literary images rather than the observation, movement, and lighting (1). By the time of his death in 1919, Renoir's style had become a blend of Impressionism and traditional styles and he would be recognized by some critics as an early embracer of Modernism.
|Autumn Landscape (Paysage d'automne), c. 1884|
Oil on Canvas (2)
Autumn Landscape is a great example of Renoir's style, which often has a lack of contour lines. Additionally, Renoir's broad use of color is seen here from his various shades of green and yellow. Renoir is also known for his speed while painting and use of thin paint, which can be seen here (3). The thinness of the paint, in my opinion, gives it an ethereal feeling.
|Apple Vendor (La Marchande de pommes), c. 1890|
Oil on Canvas (2)
Renoir's use of soft lines is once again seen in his 1890 painting, La Marchande de pommes. While his models clearly have shape, they also appear to have motion and glow due to Renoir's use of soft lines. The painting is somewhat traditional in its content and the clarity of the objects in the foreground, yet maintains the same broad use of color.
|Woman Seated in a Chair, recto, c. 1883|
Charcoal with graphite and erasure on wove paper (4)
Woman Seated in a Chair, recto gives a good example of what is likely a study drawing or sketch done by Renoir. Even when using charcoal and graphite, his use of soft lines give sense of movement to the image. Renoir uses light to medium value in this image, with the darkest being the woman's hat, providing shape to it.
|Vase of Flowers, May 1857|
Graphite on wove paper (4)
Vase of Flowers is another Renoir study drawing, though this one has more use of shading and value. In this drawing, Renoir's lines are most stronger and defined. Seeing as this picture came during the earlier part of his painting career and before Impressionism became a primary focus of his art, the more defined lines make sense because there was less emphasis placed on capturing motion and lighting. In comparison to his later Woman Seated in a Chair, recto, this drawing shows more use of shading and value. He uses a wider range of value, going from light to very dark in the center of some flowers.
Some critics have argued that Renoir does not fit into what is considered Modernism due to Greenberg's standard qualities of "flatness, abstraction, and self-referentiality" (5). Barnes makes the argument, however, that, "The majority of his paintings will never fit into Greenberg’s paradigm, and their delivery of easy pleasure, of a fantastical world free of anxiety and politics, is in many ways their raison d’être. And yet rather than expelling Renoir’s work from the modernist canons, we might allow that modernism is an art of contradictions, impossible to fit into one prescribed formula" (5). To me, Renoir's work exemplifies the idea of finding yourself through trying new things. He used many styles of painting and eventually embraced an independent style that existed as a blend of those tried in the past. He found himself through a desire to continuously improve and learn, an approach applicable to far more than just painting.
1. d'Ayala Valva, Margherita (ed.) and Alexander Auf der Heyde (ed.). "His Life and Art." Art
Classics: Renoir. New York: Rizzoli, 2005. Print.
2. "Pierre-Auguste Renoir." The Barnes Foundation - Artist - Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Barnes Foundation, 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2016. <http://www.barnesfoundation.org/collections/art-collection/artist/133/pierre-auguste-renoir>.
3. Druick, Douglas W. Renoir. Chicago: Art Institute, 1997. Print.
4. "Renoir Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago." Online Scholarly Catalogues at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago, 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2016. <https://publications.artic.edu/renoir/reader/paintingsanddrawings/section/135449/135449_anchor>.
5. Lucy, Martha, and John House. Renoir in the Barnes Foundation. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012. Print.