Renoir was one of the leading painters of the Impressionist group. He evolved a technique of broken brushstrokes and used bold combinations of pure complementary colours, to capture the light and movement of his landscapes and figure subjects. Following a visit to Italy in 1881 his style changed, becoming more linear and classical.
Renoir was born in Limoges in south-west France, where he began work as a painter on porcelain. He moved to Paris, joining the studio of the fashionable painter Charles Gleyre in around 1861-2. Courbet influenced the young Renoir. In Paris he encountered other painters, notably Monet and Sisley, who were later to become Impressionists. In 1869 he and Monet worked together sketching on the Seine, and Renoir began to use lighter colours.
Around the 1880s Renoir travelled abroad, visiting Italy, Holland, Spain, England, Germany and North Africa. He deeply admired works by Raphael, Velázquez, and Rubens, and the latter's influence may be seen in his works.
Renoir's work seems always to be about pleasurable occasions, and reveals no great seriousness in his subjects. He apparently shocked his teacher Gleyre by saying, 'if painting were not a pleasure to me I should certainly not do it'.
Work / Education
Renoir's paintings are notable for their vibrant light and color. Unlike many impressionists who focused on landscapes, he painted not only landscapes, but people in intimate and candid compositions, and made the female nude 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 color in the works of Eugène Delacroix, the luminosity of Camille Corot, and the realism of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet. Another painter Renoir greatly admired was the eighteenth-century master François Boucher.
In the 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 (Le Bal au Moulin de la Galette), which depicts an open-air scene, jammed with people, in a popular dance garden on the Butte Montmartre close to where he lived.
A trip to Italy in 1881, where he saw works by Raphael and other Renaissance masters, convinced him that he was on the wrong path, and for the next several years he painted in a more severe style. This is sometimes called his "Ingres period," as he concentrated on his drawing and emphasized the outlines of figures. But after 1890 he again changed direction, returning to the use of thinly brushed color which dissolved outlines as in his earlier work. Starting from this period he concentrated especially on monumental nudes and domestic scenes.