- The Careful Spontaneity of Pierre-Auguste Renoir [Biography]
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir

"It is in the museum that one must learn to paint. One must make the paintings of one's own time, but it is there in the museum that one develops the taste for painting, which nature alone cannot provide."

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in 1841 to a tailor and dressmaker. He attended a Christian Brother's School where he was taught the rudiments of drawing. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to a firm of porcelain painters, Levy Freres et Compagnie, whose workshops were near the Louvre. At the same time, he took drawing lessons from the sculptor Callouette. After serving his apprenticeship as a porcelain painter, he worked for a M. Gilbert, a manufacturer of blinds. In 1860 he became a student of Charles Gleyre and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In April, 1864 he came out 10th of 106th candidates in a sculpture and drawing examination there.

Initially influenced by the Barbizon School, once he had come into contact with Monet and Sisley he evolved a broader approach to the treatment of light and shade. He played an active role in the creation of the Society Anonyme des Artistes and in the Impressionist exhibitions of 1874-77 and 1882.

During this period he continued exhibiting at the Salon, where he had some notable successes which considerably advanced his career. He said "Every year I send in two portraits, however small. The entry is entirely of a commercial nature. Anyway, it's like some medicine - if it does you no good, it will do you no harm."

In 1881 Renoir took a three-month tour of Italy that heavily influenced his work for the next three years. In Italian art he found a clarity of form, a precision of outline and a compositional skill that seemed just the qualities his own work lacked. He had, in fact, been unhappy with his work for some time and destroyed many of his paintings during this period, later confessing to Vollard that in the late 1880s he felt he had reached the end of Impressionism. He had become averse to the depiction of the ephemeral, of the fleeting moment, and started to seek the 'art of the museums'. "It is in the museum that one must learn to paint. One must make the paintings of one's own time, but it is there in the museum that one develops the taste for painting, which nature alone cannot provide." The most spectacular example of the influence of Italian art on Renoir can be found in The Bathers. The hardness of outline, the smooth glossy texture and clarity of colour are the grounding for The Bathers. This can be considered his classical phase.

Renoir was a remarkably versatile artist, his work ranged from portraits and scenes of Parisian life to landscapes and eventually nudes. An interest in sculpture was sparked in 1906, when Mailloll made a bust of him. In 1913 Renoir employed 23 year old Richard Guinea as his teacher and assistant, and his collaboration with Guinea produced 14 figures and bas-reliefs. Renior was blatantly anti-Semitic, strongly believed in the panacea-like benefits of religion, and felt that "Education is the downfall of the working classes". His attitude toward women hardly coincides with the adoration of their beauty expressed in his paintings. He regarded the inferiority of women as axiomatic. His son Jean said that he once said: "I like women best when they don't know how to read". In Renoir's own home, he accepted his wife Aline's dominant position in their household, but kept her away from the art world and his social life because of her humble origins.

In 1888 Renoir began to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Later that same year he had an attack of facial paralysis, and in the next 10 years he was plagued with intermittent attacks of paralysis and vision problems. By 1918 the arthritis was so severe that he had brushes tied to his hands with string and ribbons so that he could continue to paint. He continued painting almost until the end of his life in 1919. He died of pneumonia at the age of 78.

contributed by Gifford, Katya


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