Ariel Emrani

The Journey of Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The impressionist movement forever changed how painters created space, form, and light. A group of young artists in the 1800s, including Renoir, broke away from the restrictive classical traditions. These classically trained artists wanted to create art that depicted real life, rather than an idealized version, focusing on how light affected color and form. Renoir is one of my favorite artists, a person who dared to break from tradition and chart a new path, a path that has been a huge influence on present-day modern art in all its forms.

A Gifted Child

Renoir was one of seven children in a family of artisans and revealed his artistic gifts early. At 13, he began working in a porcelain factory, decorating plates with flowers, painting fans, and cloth panels with religious themes to sell to missionaries. 

He saved his earnings so he could afford to attend the École des Beaux-Arts, and painting lessons at the studio of a Swiss painter, Charles Gleyre. While becoming proficient in the academic style of painting, he met Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frederic Bazille. The four artists had a shared vision of creating art that reflected a perception of life, without the restrictions imposed by the classical traditions.

Plein Air: Painting from Nature

Renoir began experimenting with a new painting style, and the four friends moved to work at the forest of Fontainebleau, where they painted out-of-doors, directly from nature, rather than the older standard of outdoor sketching and then completing the work in the studio. Their paintings sent shockwaves through the art community and were considered either scandalous or daring. The Impressionists were heavily scorned by art critics and academics. Rather than painting idealized images with symmetrical compositions, Renoir created images of real people. 

Rejected by the Salon de Paris

The Salon de Paris was the most important art event of the time, and Renoir and the other impressionists were not allowed to exhibit their works, causing a public outcry. A new art exhibition was established, called “The Salon de Refuses,” which exhibited the works of the artists rejected by the Salon de Paris. The art critics continued to criticize the Impressionists, with comments like “try to explain to Monsieur Renoir that a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with those purplish-green stains that denote a state of complete putrefaction in a corpse.” One can assume he was referring to Renoir’s early works, such as Lisa with a Parasol, the first painting to bring acclaim. 

Breaking the Mold

Renoir’s art was considered offensive by those who were unable to accept this novel approach to art. It is amazing to consider that a work of art could inspire such rage, controversy, and disgust. The painting is one often seen, a figure of a young actress, dressed in a glowing blue, without the required background, but simply, herself. He painted women in a manner that was considered offensive at the time, with loose hair, and enjoying freedom. 

Renoir was an early leader of the Impressionist movement, but he focused more on the human form over landscapes. His works were of everyday life and people, capturing the effects of both indoor and outdoor light. He gained acceptance to the upper-middle class of society through commissions ordered by a publisher of the era, George Charpentier.

Later in life, Renoir broke from the Impressionist movement, which he had begun to doubt, with his later works showing more discipline in line and less dramatic colors. When he relocated to the South of France for his health, the glowing colors of his Impressionist phase returned. He had developed rheumatism and bound the paintbrush to his hand to continue his work.

Renoir embodied the never-ending quest for perfection, and while once considered a rebel, he lived his art honestly and with integrity, without giving in to outside pressures. Respect.

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