Pierre Auguste Renoir

(1841—1919) French painter

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French painter and (late in his career) sculptor. He was one of the original Impressionists and is now one of the best loved, for his characteristic subjects—pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women—have instant appeal, and he communicated the joy he took in them with great directness. Like several of the other Impressionists he endured great hardship early in his career, but from about 1880 he prospered and by the turn of the century he was internationally famous. In the 1890s he began to suffer badly from rheumatism (worsened when he broke an arm falling from his bicycle in 1897) and from 1903 he lived mainly on the French Riviera for the sake of the warm climate; in 1907 he bought an estate called Les Collettes at Cagnes, near Nice. From 1912 he was confined to a wheelchair, but he continued to paint, his brush pushed between his crippled fingers by his nurse. In the 1880s he had turned from contemporary themes to ‘timeless’ subjects—particularly nudes, but also young girls in unspecific settings. He also took up mythological subjects (The Judgement of Paris, c.1913–14, Hiroshima Museum of Art). His late paintings are typically much hotter in colouring than those of his classic Impressionist days, with very full, rounded forms and supple handling. It was these monumental nudes rather than his Impressionist work that were to be especially influential immediately after his death, matching closely the taste of the Neoclassical revival.

In 1907 Renoir made his first sculpture and in 1913 he took up the art seriously. By this time he was incapable of manipulating the necessary materials himself, so he directed assistants to act as his hands. The first and most important of the assistants (who was found for Renoir by Ambroise Vollard) was the Spanish-born Richard Guino (1890–1973), a pupil of Maillol. (Renoir and Guino parted company not entirely amicably in 1918, and half a century later—in 1968—Guino successfully sued Renoir's heirs to have his ‘co-authorship’ of the sculptures he had worked on recognized.) Renoir made about two dozen sculptures in this way, the best known being the bronze Venus Victorious (c.1914), a very ample life-size nude, influenced by Maillol (he and Renoir greatly admired each other's work). Casts of the Venus are in the Tate collection, at Renoir's home at Cagnes (now the Musée Renoir), and elsewhere.

One of Renoir's sons was the celebrated film director Jean Renoir (1894–1979), who wrote a lively and touching biography published in 1962 in both French and English (Renoir, My Father). Some of his films, including La Fille de l'eau (1926) and the unforgettable Partie de campagne (1936), directly evoke the imagery of his father's paintings.

Further Reading

A. Callen, Renoir (1978)R. Golan, Modernity and Nostalgia: Art and Politics in France Between the Wars (1995). For Renoir's influence on French painting.

Subjects: Art.

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