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Pierre-Auguste Renoir
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Cagnes-sur-Mer, France
One of the greatest Impressionist artists, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s artistic style moved from Impressionism to a more Classical style of art later in his career. Best known for his figure paintings, his subject matter included portraits and landscapes, with some four thousand works in various media attributed to him. Renoir was born in Limoges in 1841, the son of a tailor and seamstress. His family moved to Paris in 1844. Apprenticed at 13 to a porcelain painter, Renoir later earned a living painting fans and decorative scrolls. In 1861 he began studying in the studio of Charles Gleyre (1806-1874), where he became friends with Claude Monet (1840-1926), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), among others. Renoir also studied for three years at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1862. He began submitting works to the official Salon exhibition in 1863, and had a work accepted the next year. Despite many rejections, he submitted works to the Salon in most years through 1883. A portrait of his mistress was accepted for the 1868 Salon and was well received. Renoir had begun to paint out-of-doors in the early 1860s, encouraged by the work of Monet and Édouard Manet (1832-1883), and later in the decade painted with Monet along the Seine River. Paintings of boating scenes by the two artists created in 1869 are described as important early works in the Impressionist movement. The young art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) purchased two of his paintings in 1872, the first of many purchases made by him during Renoir’s career. Frustrated by Salon rejections, in late 1873 Renoir, Monet, Sisley, Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Camille Pissarro (1831-1903) and others formed a company to sponsor independent art exhibitions. The first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 created a scandal and was a financial fiasco. An auction Renoir organized the next year was also a commercial failure. Renoir showed works at the 1876 and 1877 Impressionist exhibitions, both of which were also commercial failures. Renoir declined to participate in the five subsequent Impressionists shows, although Durand-Ruel displayed 25 Renoir works at the 1882 exhibition over his objections. Renoir’s portrait of Madame Georges Charpentier (1848-1904), the wife of the prominent publisher Georges Charpentier (1846-1905) (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art) was a great success at the 1879 Salon, hung in a choice location thanks to her social standing. Renoir met Aline Carigot (1859-1915) in 1880, who became his mistress and then his wife. They had three sons together; their son Jean (1894-1979) became a noted film director. In 1881-82 Renoir traveled to Algeria and Italy, where his exposure to ancient and Renaissance art led him to introduce a new linear and sculptural direction into his art. As his career continued, much of his work depicted female nudes. Durand-Ruel exhibited 70 of Renoir’s works in 1883, arranged for his works to appear in Berlin, Boston and London that year, and included others of Renoir’s works in his New York Impressionist exhibition in 1886. The 1892 purchase of Two Girls at a Piano (Paris, Musée d’Orsay) by the French State gave Renoir official recognition, and the retrospective at Galerie Durand-Ruel later that year, with some 110 works, signaled greater popular success. As executor of Gustave Caillebotte’s (1848-1894) estate, Renoir and Caillebotte’s son negotiated the acceptance by the French State of 40 of the 60 works bequeathed to the State. These works, mostly by Caillebotte’s Impressionist friends including Renoir, are now among the most famous works in the Musée d’Orsay. Encouraged by dealers, Renoir began etching in 1889. He created an etching and a lithograph in 1893 and 1895 for André Marty’s (1857-?) famous series L’Estampe originale (The Original Print), two color lithographs and a color etching for albums published by Ambroise Bollard (1897-1939) in 1896 and 1898 and another color lithograph published in an edition of 200 by Vollard in 1898. Renoir continued printmaking until 1912, creating 59 prints in all. Troubled by rheumatism from around 1890 and then gout, Renoir began spending winters on the Mediterranean coast of France at various locations and then increasingly at Cagnes, near Nice. In 1907 he bought a property in Cagnes and built a villa and studio. Increasingly crippled, from 1911 he was confined to a wheelchair but continued working despite his afflictions. His paintings were shown in the 1913 Armory Show in New York and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Encouraged by Vollard, Renoir began designing sculptures in 1913, which were executed by the sculptor Richard Guinó Boix (1890-1973). He was awarded membership in the Legion of Honor as a knight in 1900, an officer in 1911 and a commander in 1919. Renoir died of pneumonia at Cagnes in 1919. (Rev. TNB 8/2013). Selected bibliography: Bailey, Colin B., et al. Renoir, Impressionism and the Full-length Painting. Exhibition catalog. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012. Distel, Anne. Renoir. New York: Abbeville Press, 2010.