Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was born in Limoges, France on February 25th, 1841. His family moved to Paris in 1844.
Renoir was a good singer as a child and, at 13, was offered a spot in the Paris Opera Choir. But he decided to take an apprenticeship painting on porcelain instead. He was very good at this, and his co-workers gave him the nickname “Mr. Rubens”, after the artist, Peter Paul Rubens. By the time he was 21, he had saved up enough money to study under Charles Gleyre.
Gleyre was a traditional teacher, except that he said to paint ‘en plein air’ (‘out in fresh air’), which was a strange and unusual thing to do at the time.
They had to paint more quickly outside because the light was always changing, affecting the colours to change as well. They didn’t have time to blend colours with their brushstrokes, so their brushstrokes always looked a bit unfinished.
Renoir was very poor and would often forgo buying food for the sake of buying painting tools.
In 1870, during the Franco Prussian war, Renoir had to go to the south of France to train horses for the cavalry. He went back to painting in Paris when it was all over in 1871.
Renoir became fascinated with painting light through trees and dappled shadows. In 1873, Durand-Ruel started selling Renoir’s paintings, so he was no longer poor. The Paris studio he subsequently moved into became a common meeting place of the Impressionists.
He did still have to rely on the income from making portraits of wealthy families, however.
Renoir only liked to paint pretty things, people having fun and things he liked. He would often make sketches on the spot, and then paint up in his studio, so he didn’t always paint ‘en plein air’ as most Impressionists generally did.
Even though he was one of the main and original Impressionists, Pierre-Auguste Renoir started moving away from Impressionist techniques in the 1880’s.
He maintained the dabs of colour and quick pace, but moved away from landscapes and changed to nudes as his primary subject matter. He started using soft, rosy tones with solid areas of dark colour.
Renoir started suffering from arthritis in the late 1890s and eventually moved south for the warmer climate.
He started sculpting and, with the help of assistants, he sculpted and painted up until he died at age 78 in Cagnes, France on December 3, 1919.
Auguste Renoir painted over 6000 paintings in his life. He is probably the best known Impressionist.
While in Paris, you can see Renoir’s paintings in the Louvre in the Sully wing, or you can see more of them at the Musée d’Orsay.