Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Biography of French Impressionist Painter.

Impressionism: Origins and Influences - Early History of Impressionism
Impressionist Painting Developments - Impressionist Exhibitions (Paris)

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Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
One of the most famous works of
19th century French painting.
It is the most expensive example
of Impressionist painting ever
sold at auction.

Renoir (1841-1919)


Early Days: Porcelain Painting
Early Paintings
1883-87: 'Harsh Style': Break with Impressionism
1883 Exhibition
1888-1919: Illness and Last Masterpieces
Bal au Moulin de la Galette - Most Expensive Impressionist Picture

For analysis of works by French Impressionists like Renoir,
please see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

La Loge (1874) Courtauld Institute.
By Renoir.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one of the greatest and prolific exponents of French Impressionism. With his 'rainbow palette' he painted over 6,000 oil paintings of women, children, flowers and fields. He worked with several other Impressionists, notably his close friend Claude Monet, with whom he practised plein air painting and the capture of light and its effects on nature.

He tended to use heavy impasto and rather dark colour, but after working with Monet in 1868, his colour-palette became lighter, and slowly he mastered the ability to paint the shimmering colour and flickering light of outdoor scenes, becoming the greatest painter of 'dappled light' in the history of art. See for instance his masterpiece The Swing (La Balancoire) (1876, Musee d'Orsay, Paris).

Portrait of Madame Charpentier
and Her Children (1879)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
By Renoir.

For a list of the finest modernist
pictures, by the most famous artists
see: Greatest Modern Paintings.

Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris. Among Renoir's
most famous landscape paintings.

He exhibited in 4 out of 8 Impressionist exhibitions, most of which were not well received by the art critics, and while his painting rarely reveals the introspective gravitas of Monet or Cezanne, it illustrates a superb touch and sense of colour. He was also a founding member of the publication entitled The Impressionist (L'Impressionniste) (1877), in which he published his ideas on the principles of contemporary art. Renoir's greatest paintings include: Young Boy with a Cat (1868, Musee d'Orsay); The Box at the Opera (La Loge) (1874, Courtauld Institute, London); Le Moulin de la Galette (1876, Musee d'Orsay); The Swing (1876, Musee d'Orsay); Portrait of Madame Charpentier and her Children (1879, Metropolitan Museum); Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-1, Phillips Collection, Washington DC); Les Grandes Baigneuses (The Bathers) (1884-7, Philadelphia Museum of Art); and Les Baigneuses (c.1918, Musee d'Orsay). See also: Best Impressionist Paintings.

See: Modern Artists.

Pictures by Renoir are available
online in the form of poster art.

Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings.

Early Days, Porcelain-Painting Apprenticeship, Gleyre's Studio

Born the sixth of seven children into a poor family in Limoges - his father was a tailor - Renoir moved to Paris when he was three. Early on he displayed a gift for drawing, prompting his parents to apprentice him to a porcelain-painter in 1854. Here Renoir remained for four years, attending classes in the evening at a school for decorative art in the Rue des Petits Carreaux. When the porcelain-painter's workshop closed down, Renoir was employed by his brother, an engraver of medals, to colour coats-of-arms. He went on to decorate fans with pictures of gallants and their ladies, and subsequently painted blinds and awnings. Eventually he saved a little money and was able to devote all his time to fine art painting.

Renoir used his earnings to enter the Ecole des Beaux Arts (1862-64), and also became a pupil at Charles Gleyre's studio, where he met Frederic Bazille (1841-70), Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899). Together they went plein air painting in the forest of Fontainebleau, and it was here, in 1863, that Renoir met the Bordeaux painter Narcisse Diaz (1807-76) who advised him to lighten his palette.

Luncheon of the Boating Party
(Le Dejeuner des Canotiers) (1881)
Phillips Collection, Washington DC.
By Renoir.


Early Paintings

Renoir's first submission to the Paris Salon in 1864, Esmeralda Dansant avec Sa Chevre (Esmeralda Dancing with her Goat), was accepted, but later Renoir destroyed the painting, thinking it too sombre and academic. He then fell deeply under the influence of the great French realist Gustave Courbet (1819-77), having met him at Marlotte near Fontainebleau. This influence is evident in his first large-scale composition, Auberge de la Mere Anthony (The Inn of Mere Anthony) (National Museum of Stockholm), rejected by the Salon in 1866, and also in one of his first nudes Diane Chasseresse (Diana the Huntress) (1867, National Gallery of Art, Washington), rejected by the Salon in 1867. Meanwhile Renoir was painting portraits to good effect, catching the sitter's personality: Bazille (1867, Musee d'Orsay), those of the Sisley Family (1868, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne) and the Femme a l'Ombrelle (Woman with a Parasol) (1867, Folkwang Museum, Essen), hung in the Salon in 1868. Other notable works include Young Boy with a Cat (1868, Musee d'Orsay).


However, it was Impressionism that was to free Renoir from these various influences. From 1869 when he painted La Grenouillere (Winterthur, Oskar Reinhart Foundation) in company with his close friend Claude Monet, he became obsessed with the study of reflections on water, and began adding small accents of colour to replace the drawing. The two painters continued along these lines after 1870 at Argenteuil, where they painted regattas and a variety of landscapes. But Renoir, unlike his friends, had not abandoned the human form, to which he also tried to apply Impressionist principles. (Note: to understand more about Renoir's landscape art, see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.)

He was comparatively successful with Parisian Women Dressed as Algerians (1872, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo), in which he was obviously influenced by Eugene Delacroix (1798-63), and with his Cavaliers au bois de Boulogne (Horsemen in the Bois de Boulogne) (1872, Hamburg Museum), rejected by the Salon in 1873 but shown at the Salon des Refuses. His true brilliance emerged only in Madame Monet Reclining on a Sofa (1872, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon) and in La Loge (The Box at the Opera) (1874, Courtauld Institute, London) as well as La Danseuse (The Dancer) (1874, National Gallery of Art, Washington), the two latter paintings being shown with four other canvases and a pastel at the first Impressionist Exhibition. Other exhibitors included Monet, Sisley, Eugene Boudin (1824-98), Cezanne (1839-1906), Berthe Morisot (1841-95), Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903).

Impressionist Portraiture

After this Renoir's development quickened, and from 1876 he applied his Impressionist skills to portrait art, with which he was again successful, showing 15 paintings at the second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876. This was a lucky year for Renoir. He rented a studio in the Rue Cortot in Montmartre where he produced some of his most famous works, such as Le Moulin de la Galette (in 1990, this work sold for $78 million), La Balancoire (The Swing), Torse de femme au soleil (Nude in Sunshine) (all in the Musee d'Orsay, Paris), and Sous la Tonnelle (Under the Arbour) (Puskin Museum, Moscow). In all these different canvases, which he exhibited in 1877 at the third Impressionist Exhibition, Renoir aimed at capturing the effect of light filtering through trees on to figures in the shade (which, the critics said, make them resemble corpses). It was also at this time that Renoir became acquainted with the publisher Georges Charpentier and was frequently invited to his glittering salon, where he met the leading political, literary and artistic figures of the day.

To earn a living he had to undertake many commissions, including works of decorative art and a number of portraits of mothers with their children: Madamoiselle Georgette Charpentier (1876, private collection); Child with a Watering Can (1876, National Gallery of Art, Washington); Madame Georges Charpentier (1876-7, Musee d'Orsay); Portrait de Madamoiselle Jeanne Samary (1878, Hermitage), and the magnificent Portrait de Madame Charpentier et de ses Enfants (1879, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). These last two portraits were shown at the 1879 Salon, Renoir refusing to show at the fourth Impressionist Exhibition, no doubt in the belief that this would compromise his success with Parisian society, which accepted him as a brilliant portraitist.

He displayed less worldliness but equal brilliance in his paintings of the habitues of small suburban bistros and in his Portrait d'Alphonsine Fournaise (1879, Musee d'Orsay). He took no part again in the fifth Impressionist Exhibition of 1880, showing instead two canvases at the Salon, La Femme au Chat (Woman with a Cat) (1880, Williamstown, Clark Art Inst.) and Fishing for Mussels at Berneva (1879, Merion, Barnes Foundation). These were painted during a holiday at Wargemont, near Dieppe, where he was staying with the diplomat Paul Berard, whose guest he often was during the summer.

It was perhaps this double life, both fashionable and commonplace, that prompted him to go to Algeria for a time for a rest, from the beginning of March to 15th April 1881. He returned with several portraits of Algerian women and vividly coloured landscape painting: Fields of Banana Trees, Ravine of the Wild Woman, Arab Fete at Algiers (all Musee d'Orsay).


1883-1887: The 'Harsh Style': Break with Impressionism

On returning to France, Renoir suffered a breakdown and, at the end of October 1881, went to Italy for several months. He stayed in Milan and Venice, where he produced several paintings of gondoliers and of the Basilica of St Mark, before going on to Florence and Rome. The art of Raphael came as a revelation which was to influence his style from then on, and which led to what he called his 'maniere aigre' or 'harsh style'. It could equally well be termed his Ingres period, where drawing took precedence over colour and his painting shows a sharper definition of form. This ascendancy of drawing (in effect disegno) is already evident in Les Parapluies (The Umbrellas) (c.1879, National Gallery, London) as well as in La Baigneuse Blonde (The Blonde Bather) (1881, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown) but it was not until 1883 that the new method reached its peak.

During this same Italian visit Renoir went to Naples and Pompeii and stayed in Sicily long enough to produce a hasty portrait of Richard Wagner (1882, Musee d'Orsay). On his return to France he stayed at L'Estaque where he worked with Paul Cezanne, then departed again for Algeria (March-April 1882). Meanwhile the seventh Impressionist Exhibition was held in Paris, with 25 paintings by Renoir, including his Dejeuner des Canotiers (The Luncheon of the Boating Party) (1880-1) - purchased by the art collector Duncan Phillips for the Phillips Collection, Washington - in which he portrayed Aline Charigot, his future wife.

1883 Exhibition

In April 1883, a successful one-man show organized by Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) on the Boulevard de la Madeleine established him financially, and it was from this time that his compositions began to change. Where his early works encompassed portraits and Impressionist landscape painting, as well as genre-painting featuring groups of figures in cafes, dance-halls, boats, or riverside scenes, his later works are largely concerned with female nudes or semi-nudes. From hereon, his artistic sensuality, and his admiration of the Italian Renaissance painters separated him from the primary concern of impressionism - to imitate the effects of natural light.

During the Ingres period Renoir continued to paint the human form: Danse a Bougival (1883, Boston Museum of Fine Arts); Danse a la Ville (1883) and Danse a la Campagne (1883; both Paris, Durand Ruel Collection). He also painted landscapes and seascapes during his many trips to the Channel Islands (September 1883), the Normandy and Brittany coasts, the Cote d'Azur and La Rochelle (summer, 1884). The most representative work in the maniere aigre remains Les Grandes Baigneuses (The Bathers) (1884-7, Philadelphia Museum of Art), inspired by Girardon's Bain de Diane (Diana's Bath) (Versailles). The canvas was painted in the studio and Renoir prepared for it with numerous studies, drawings, and sketches in both crayon and sanguine (Nice Museum; Musee d'Orsay).

NOTE: Compare Cezanne's Large Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) (1894-1905, National Gallery, London; Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA) with the work by Renoir.

1888-1919: Years of Illness, Last Masterpieces

Renoir went through another period of depression in the autumn of 1888. Finding his compositions too dry he destroyed many of his canvases and adopted a new method called the 'pearly' method, gradually giving up his linear style to make the most of a more supple technique based on half-tones of pink and white: Les Jeunes Filles au Piano (Young Girls at the Piano) (1892, Metropolitan Museum, New York). In 1890, at the age of 49, he married Aline Victorine Charigot with whom he had already had a child, Pierre, in 1885. Towards the end of his life Renoir used mainly professional models, except for his servant Gabrielle. Almost all the nudes he painted bore the title 'Bather': Baigneuse Assise sur un Rocher (Bather Seated on a Rock) (1892, Paris, private collection); Sleeping Bather (1897, Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Winterthur); Bather Letting down her Hair (c.1904-6, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); Bather with Long Hair (Musee d'Orsay, Paris).

The artist's sensuousness has never been more beautifully expressed than in his portrayals of these buxom Rubenesque young women with their soft pearly flesh. At the same time he extended his range to include pictures of children, but not only those of the well-to-do. Renoir painted his own sons, Pierre (b.1885), Jean (b.1894), but mostly Claude, called Coco (b.1901), in spontaneous poses taken from everyday life: Gabrielle et Jean (1895, Musee d'Orsay, Paris); La Lecon de lecture de Coco (Coco's Reading Lesson) (c.1906, Barnes Foundation, Merion).



From 1903, Renoir fought the encroaching paralysis of arthritis just when his work attained its greatest visual power. In 1907, he moved to the warmer climate of Cagnes-sur-Mer, close to the Mediterranean. He developed progressive deformities in his hands and ankylosis of his right shoulder, requiring him to adapt his painting technique. From then on a certain change in his work became apparent. The figures that he painted in his untended garden, planted with olive trees, had a sculptural quality, while red became the dominant colour, increasing in strength with the artist's approach to old age. It was also the predominant colour in his still life painting: Les Fraises (Strawberries) (Bordeaux Museum); Nature Morte aux Pommes (Still Life with Apples) (Nice Museum); Roses dans un Vase (Roses in a Vase) (Musee d'Orsay). Most of these works were small in size. One of the painter's peculiarities at this time was his habit of painting many different subjects, all very small, on the same canvas. The minute studies to be found on the market are often pieces from canvases that have been cut up.

In his last years, Renoir saw a good deal of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) who lived nearby, and was interested in and sympathetic to the ideas behind Fauvism. By now Renoir's hands were completely paralysed by arthritis and his brushes had to be placed between his fingers. Yet, his creative genius was as strong as ever. Encouraged by the art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) to try lithography and engraving, Renoir made several portraits of him, and took up sculpture with the same verve, being helped by his assistants, who modelled the clay, adding or removing it as Renoir directed.

About 15 pieces of sculpture were cast, among them Venus Victrix (Maison des Collettes, Cagnes), Le Jugement de Paris (1914, Musee d'Orsay), and The Large Washerwoman (1917, bronze, Musee d'Orsay). Included in the intensely active period at Cagnes, where Renoir worked mostly on small pictures, Les Baigneuses (The Bathers) (c.1918, Musee d'Orsay) is exceptional. It is one of his last great compositions before his death, in Cagnes, at the age of 78.


Renoir worked far more quickly than other Impressionist painters and his pictures from the beginning were eagerly sought after. As a result they are to be found in many of the best art museums all over the world. The most important holdings are in the Musee d'Orsay Paris, and also the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery in Washington, the Barnes Foundation in Merion, the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown (U.S.A.) and the Hermitage, St Petersburg.

Among the many artists influenced by Renoir was the Norwegian landscape artist P.S. Kroyer (1851-1909).

Bal au Moulin de la Galette - Most Expensive Impressionist Picture

In 1990, this masterpiece of Renoir's was sold at Sotheby's in New York for $78.1 million, making it the most expensive work of Impressionism ever sold at auction. It famously depicts a Sunday afternoon dance in Montmartre and showcases the artist's unique skill in being able to reproduce dappled light, which infuses the whole work with a soft-focus quality. It has a 'sister' version, a larger canvas which hangs in the Musee d’Orsay, in Paris. For more, see: Most Expensive Paintings: Top 20.

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