The recognizable work of Pierre-Auguste Renoir is respected around the globe and the impressionist master led an interesting life.
Here are 9 intriguing facts about the man and the artist, Renoir.
Photo of Pierre-Auguste Renoir in his later years
Renoir was a much more talented singer than he was a painter.
As a young boy, Renoir took singing lessons with the local church choirmaster. He had a great talent for singing but due to his family’s financial situation, was forced to quit.
Who knows if we would’ve ever seen his beloved paintings had he continued with his first artistic love. Perhaps, instead, we would be talking about Renoir as one of the great musical artists of his time.
Renoir was an apprentice at a porcelain factory near the Louvre.
To help support his family, Renoir got an apprenticeship at a porcelain factory where his talent for painting was eventually noticed. A self-taught painter, he would frequent the Louvre which was close-by the porcelain factory and would copy the great works he saw there.
When the factory began using machines, Renoir’s apprenticeship was terminated. Such is life as an artist.
Renoir’s career was launched alongside Monet, Sisley, and Bazille in the first-ever Impressionist exhibition.
In 1874, before impressionism was known as impressionism, Renoir exhibited some of his work alongside fellow painters Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frederic Bazille. A review of the exhibition was what gave this group, and later the entire movement its name.
Notice of the first-ever Impressionist exhibition, 1874
The review asserted that the paintings looked more like “impressions” as opposed to finished paintings. In general, the exhibit wasn’t received well but Renoir’s six works, by comparison, were some of the better-liked art on display that day. Little did they know that history had just been made.
The third presentation of the Impressionist exhibition in 1876 is where Renoir displayed his most important work Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de galette) along with The Swing (La Balancoire) and others.
Bal du moulin de galette, Renoir, 1876
La Balancoire, Renoir, 1876
He never again submitted to the Impressionist exhibition and instead decided to submit to the Paris Salon. His success there with Mme Charpentier and her Children in 1879 deemed him a fashionable and prosperous painter for the rest of his career.
Mme Charpentier and her Children, Renoir, 1878
Renoir painted quickly – some of his work took only half an hour.
Some artists spent weeks, months, and even years on a single work of art. This was not the case for Renoir who worked swiftly.
His portrait of opera composer Richard Wagner took him a mere 35 minutes and during a month-long stay in Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, Renoir completed a painting every two days, coming back with 15 finished works.
Richard Wagner, Renoir, 1882
Renoir made several thousand paintings in his lifetime, undoubtedly due to his speed with the paintbrush.
Renoir traveled often, seeking the work of artists like Velazquez, Delacroix, and Titian along the way.
As a frequent traveler, Renoir was well-known, meeting many people and seeing many places. But the reason for his travels was that he was specifically seeking out other artists’ work.
He made way to Algeria in hopes of being inspired the way Eugene Delacroix had been, to Madrid to see the work of Diego Velazquez, and ventured through Florence to set eyes on the masterpieces by Titian.
Renoir had a unique color theory and rarely used blacks or browns.
A color theory he shared with Monet, the artists had an altogether different take on shadows when compared to the rest of the art world at the time. For them, shadows were not black or brown, but instead a reflection of the objects themselves – shadows were then multicolored.
Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, Renoir, 1873
This simple, yet profound shift in the use of color is a major distinction of impressionism.
Renoir was nearly thrown in the Seine River by radical government officials.
A radical and revolutionary government entity known as the Paris Commune once accused Renoir of being a spy. He’d often paint by the Seine and perhaps because he was always there, in the same spot, potentially loitering, the Communards thought him suspicious.
When things came to a head, he was nearly thrown into the Seine but was saved when one of the Communards, Raoul Rignalt recognized him. Rignalt owed him a favor as, apparently, Renoir saved his life on a separate occasion.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
Renoir had rheumatoid arthritis.
In his later years, Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis – a painful deterioration of the joints which affected his hands and right shoulder. His painting style changed rather drastically after this development, yet he continued to work.
Arthritis eventually rendered his shoulder joint completely stiff and to adapt to these frustrating changes, he would strap a paintbrush to his bandaged hands. Now that’s commitment.
Still, Renoir’s arthritis wasn’t the only time his artistic style changed.
When Renoir and his friend and patron Jules Le Coeur ended their relationship, he no longer had access to his most favorite view of the Fontainebleau. Coeur’s property was in the Fontainebleau area and Renoir had to find other subjects as he was no longer welcome there.
The Painter Jules Le Coeur Walking His Dogs in the Forest of Fontainebleau, Renoir, 1866
In short, Renoir’s style bounced from sceneries to formal portraits to attempts at a new style inspired by the Renaissance painters of Italy known as his Ingres period. He sometimes went back to the French classical style from his roots. Renoir even used thin brushes from time to time to create more detail in portraits and nudes.
Girl Braiding Her Hair (Suzanne Valadon), Renoir, 1885
It’s clear that Renoir had a lot to offer and as art lovers, we’re grateful for all the risks he took in style and subject. He left us with a great body of work using a plethora of techniques.
Renoir’s three sons all became artists in their own right.
Renoir had three sons, Pierre, Jean, and Claude, all of whom were artists within various industries.
Pierre was an actor of the stage and screen. He played Jericho in Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis), the French epic romantic drama from 1945. Jean was a filmmaker and director known for movies such as Grand Illusion from 1937 and The Rules of the Game from 1939. Claude followed more closely in Renoir’s footsteps, becoming a ceramics artist.
Surely his sons were inspired by Renoir’s sheer grit and commitment to his art. Similarly, he continues to do so for art enthusiasts and Impressionism junkies all over the world today.