Pierre-Auguste Renoir (February 25, 1841–December 3, 1919) was a French artist who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. As a celebrator of beauty, and especially feminine sensuality, it has been said that “Renoir is the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau.”
Renoir’s paintings are notable for their vibrant light and saturated color, most often focusing on people in intimate and candid compositions. The female nude was one of his primary subjects. In characteristic Impressionist style, Renoir suggested the details of a scene through freely brushed touches of color, so that his figures softly fuse with one another and their surroundings.
His initial paintings show the influence of the colorism of Eugène Delacroix and the luminosity of Camille Corot. He also admired the realism of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, and his early work resembles theirs in his use of black as a color. As well, Renoir admired Edgar Degas’ sense of movement. Another painter Renoir greatly admired was the 18th century master François Boucher.
A fine example of Renoir’s early work, and evidence of the influence of Courbet’s realism, is Diana, 1867. Ostensibly a mythological subject, the painting is a naturalistic studio work, the figure carefully observed, solidly modeled, and superimposed upon a contrived landscape. If the work is still a ‘student’ piece, already Renoir’s heightened personal response to female sensuality is present. The model was Lise Tréhot, then the artist’s mistress and inspiration for a number of paintings.
In the late 1860s, through the practice of painting light and water en plein air (in the open air), he and his friend Claude Monet discovered that the color of shadows is not brown or black, but the reflected color of the objects surrounding them. Several pairs of paintings exist in which Renoir and Monet, working side-by-side, depicted the same scenes.
One of the best known Impressionist works is Renoir’s 1876 Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de la Galette). The painting depicts an open-air scene, crowded with people, at a popular dance garden on the Butte Montmartre, close to where he lived.
The works of his early maturity were typically Impressionist snapshots of real life, full of sparkling color and light. By the mid 1880s, however, he had broken with the movement to apply a more disciplined, formal technique to portraits and figure paintings, particularly of women, such as The Bathers, which was created during 1884–87. It was a trip to Italy in 1881, when he saw works by Raphael and other Renaissance masters, that convinced him that he was on the wrong path, and for the next several years he painted in a more severe style, in an attempt to return to classicism. This is sometimes called his "Ingres period," as he concentrated on his drawing and emphasized the outlines of figures.
After 1890, however, he changed direction again, returning to the use of thinly brushed color which dissolved outlines as in his earlier work. From this period onward he concentrated especially on monumental nudes and domestic scenes, fine examples of which are Girls at the Piano, 1892, and Grandes Baigneuses, 1918–19. The latter painting is the most typical and successful of Renoir’s late, abundantly fleshed nudes.
A prolific artist, he made several thousand paintings. The warm sensuality of Renoir’s style made his paintings some of the most well-known and frequently-reproduced works in the history of art. The single largest collection of his works—181 paintings in all—is at the Barnes Foundation, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Many of Renoir’s paintings are nudes, but when it came time to create this theme, I considered if nudes—even tasteful, artistic ones—would be appropriate for Atlas Quest, and finally decided to limit their use only to members who are a part of the Pin-ups group. If you want Renoir’s nudes included in this theme, add yourself to the group from the Miscellaneous Preferences page. Likewise, if you do not want nudes showing up, make sure you are not in the Pin-ups group.