A leader of the Impressionist movement, Pierre Auguste Renoir is one of the world’s most famous artists. His paintings are some of the world’s most reproduced works. In 1990, his signature piece, Bal du Moulin de la Galette (1876), sold for more than seventy-eight million dollars. His work is best known for its immense beauty and its adept study of light.
Born in Limoges, France in 1841, Renoir was from a working class family and as a child he worked in a porcelain factory doing decorative painting on porcelain. Along with frequent visits to the Louvre, this early training prepared him for his eventual joining of Charles Gleyre’s well-known art studio in 1862. While still struggling financially, Renoir was able to exhibit paintings at the 1864 Paris Salon, the prestigious annual art exhibition of the Academie des Beaux-Arts. Much of Renoir’s early work was in the style of the old masters, but his new associations with artists like Claude Monet led to a great development in the world of art: Impressionism.
Renoir and fellow impressionists were consumed with the portrayal of light as it changed throughout the day and affected their vision of a subject. In Renoir’s case, subjects were often common scenes like rivers, village people, or forests. His use of quick brush strokes emphasized his “impression” of a scene and the light that surrounded it. Perhaps he is best known for his beautiful depiction of women and girls. He often painted family members such as his wife Aline whom he married in 1887. They had three sons. Aline was a model for one of the figures in Les Dejeuner de Canotiers (1881), famously known in English as Luncheon of the Boating Party.
Renoir liked to paint outdoor scenes filled with people enjoying simple pleasures. His subjects are invariably happy and his brushstrokes convey the innate beauty in the things he saw. His paintings reveal an artist whose impression of life seemed to be infused with beauty and delight. Renoir continued to paint until his death in 1919 although severe arthritis made his artistic endeavors difficult. Aside from the paintings already mentioned, other signature works include Gabrielle and Jean (1895), Nude (1910), A Girl with a Watering Can (1876), La Loge (1874) and Two Sisters (1881).
Not surprising, Renoir’s work, a substantial body including thousands of pieces, is collected by the world’s most prestigious art museums and collectors such as Chicago’s Art Institute, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paris’ Musee d’Orsay, and St. Petersburg’s Hermitage. Though he would die later that year, Renoir was able to visit the Louvre to witness his work hung beside the great painters of old that he visited so often as a child.