Pierre-Auguste Renoir, February 25, 1841 (Limoges, France); died December 3, 1919 (Cagnes-sure-Mer, France)
Impressionist painter and sculptor; muted colors merging into each other; bold color; interplay of light and shadow; voluptuous female nudes.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir's first job was painting patterns onto ceramics. With his wages he paid for art lessons, and it was at these classes that he met the men who would help him found impressionism: Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frederic Bazille. In 1862, he was accepted into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and soon began exhibiting at the Paris Salon - this early work no longer exists because Renoir destroyed it. In 1867, a portrait of his then mistress, Lise with a Parasol (1867), was accepted by the Salon. It was remarkable for being a portrait executed outdoors instead of in a studio. Renoir and the impressionists became famous for their plein-air paintings, and Lise with a Parasol paved the way. The artists worked as a group, using each other as models. Renoir and Monet were particularly close friends and often painted together, producing unique versions of the same subject. Their most famous joint series are those painted at La Grenouillere (1869). Renoir fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871, in which he lost his friend Bazille. After the war ended, as Renoir tried to paint away the horrors, art dealer Paul Durant-Ruel asked to meet him and bought what would be the first of many Renoirs for his gallery; commissions soon followed. Despite of such an integral part of the group, Renoir exhibited in just four of the eight impressionist exhibitions. In later life, he turned away from the movement he had helped to found, becoming more interested in his earlier passion: classical art of the eighteenth century. His style became less impressionistic, although he never emulated the classical masters directly; he took the lessons he had learned from their works and mixed them with impressionist techniques to give his work more direction and solidity. Renoir was blighted by poor health. He moved to the south of France, hoping that a warm climate would ease his arthritic pain. When it paralyzed his finger joints, he strapped a brush to his arm and painted with wide, sweeping strokes.
To know: Pierre-Auguste and Aline Renoir had three sons: Pierre, Jean, and Claude. Renoir painted them on several occasions, often with their mother or their beautiful nanny, Aline's cousin Gabrielle Renard. Both Pierre and Jean were old enough to fight in World War I, and both were wounded. After the war, Pierre became a respected actor, initially in the theater but later in films. Jean became one of the most important film directors in early French cinema, winning an Academy Award for L'Homme du Sud (The Southerner) (1945). His films exhibit a great artistic understanding inherited from his father.