10 Key Facts About Pierre-Auguste Renoir And His Art

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (February 25, 1841 – December 3, 1919) was a French artist who is widely regarded as one of the greatest painters of the 19th century. Though he quit Impressionism midway, he is most famous as one of the pioneers of the art movement. Renoir married one of his models Aline Charigot and had three sons with her, one of whom is the Academy Award winning director Jean Renoir. It recently came to light that he also had an affair and two children with Lise Tréhot before he married Charigot. In the late stages of his life, Renoir suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis which partially paralyzed him. Nonetheless, he continued to paint applying ingenious methods to cope with his disease. Know more about the life and artistic career of Renoir through these 10 interesting facts.

#1 He lived to see his work displayed at the Louvre

Pierre Auguste Renoir was born in a poor family to Leonard Renoir, a tailor by profession, and his wife Marguerite Merlet. Due to financial difficulties, he had to leave school in 1854 and begin his career as a porcelain painter at the workshop of Lévy Frères. He lost his job in 1858 when industrialization came to porcelain decoration. The next few years he made money by painting images on window blinds, among other things. In 1860, at the age of eighteen, he was granted permission to make copies of works in the Louvre, the top museum in France. A year later he began studying art and, in 1864, his submission was accepted in the annual state-sponsored Paris Salon. By 1880s, he had achieved financial success and by the turn of the 20th century he was a world renowned artist. Shortly before he died in 1919, Renoir visited the Louvre to see his paintings hung alongside the works of the old masters he copied and admired.

Main Sources:-
(2010). “Renoir in the 20th Century”. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Kang Cindy. (May 2011). “Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)”. The MET.

Renoir Self Portrait
Self Portrait (1899) – Pierre Auguste Renoir

#2 Renoir is regarded as a pioneer of Impressionism

Impressionism was a hugely influential art movement that initiated in France. In 1869, Renoir, along with Claude Monet, developed several of the theories, techniques and practices that would give rise to Impressionism. These included painting en plein-air (“open air”), the practice of painting outdoors to capture the effects of light and atmosphere; sketch-like technique of using broad, loose brushstrokes; and use of bright color to represent light and atmospheric effects. The works of Renoir and Monet was accepted by the prestigious Paris Salon in the 1860s. However, once they began experimenting with new techniques, their paintings were repeatedly rejected. This led to the two founding an independent artist’s society. They were soon joined by others including Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne and Berthe Morisot. The society organized their own exhibition in 1874, now regarded as the first Impressionist exhibition.

Main Sources:-
(Sep 21, 2020). “10 things to know about Pierre-Auguste Renoir”. Christie’s.
“Renoir Landscapes Teacher Resource Material”. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

La Grenouillere (1869)
La Grenouillere (1869) – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

#3 He quit Impressionism after his trip abroad

In all eight Impressionist Exhibitions were held between 1874 and 1886. However, Renoir only participated in the first three willingly while his art dealer submitted his paintings to the seventh. This was due to Renoir’s 1881 trip abroad during which he studied the paintings of the old masters including Renaissance artists Raphael and Titian. The trip was a major point in his career as he quit Impressionism and started painting in a more classical style. Unlike the Impressionists, he began painting more in his studio than en plein-air (“open air”) and focused more on classical subjects like mythology and the female form. He later said about his switch in style: “I had gone as far as I could with Impressionism”.

Main Source:-
Covington, Richard. (Feb, 2010). “Renoir’s Controversial Second Act”. Smithsonian Magazine.

#4 He had an illegitimate daughter no one knew of

Lise Tréhot was introduced to Renoir by her elder sister Clémence, who was a lover of artist Jules Le Coeur. At the time they met in 1865, she was 18 while Renoir was 25. She quickly became his muse and lover. He depicted her in numerous paintings between 1866 and 1872 including La Promenade (1870) and Woman with Parrot (1871). Lise gave birth to two children during their courtship and both were given for adoption. Unlike their son, their daughter Jeanne survived infancy and later corresponded with Renoir. Renoir went to great lengths to hide his relationship with Lise, as well as the existence of their daughter, from his friends and relatives. Renoir secretly provided for his daughter Jeanne throughout her life giving her money with each letter, including a dowry for her 1893 wedding. After his death, Renoir left a modest annuity for Jeanne in his will. It was then that his family and most of his friends learned of her existence. In 2002, researcher Jean-Claude Gélineau uncovered letters which proved that Renoir had two children with Lise Tréhot. The world thus came to know about Renoir’s closely guarded secret.

Main Sources:-
Stammers, Tom. (Mar, 2018). “Mixed Impressions Renoir: An Intimate Biography”. Literary Review.
Southwick, Catherine. “Book review of “Renoir: An Intimate Biography by Barbara Ehrlich White,”” Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide.

Woman with Parrot (1871)
Woman with Parrot (1871) – Portrait of Lise Trehot by Renoir

#5 His son won the Lifetime Achievement Academy Award

Aline Charigot was working as a seamstress when she met Renoir in 1879. She was 20 and around 18 years younger than Renoir. Aline accepted Renoir’s offer to model for him and they soon became lovers. She appears in several of his paintings from the 1880s, including the masterpiece Luncheon of the Bathing Party (1882) and the 1885 Portrait of Aline Charigot. The latter was probably painted soon after the birth of their son Pierre in March 1885. On April 14, 1890, the couple married. They had two more sons Jean and Claude. All three of his sons became artists. Pierre, the eldest, became a well-known actor of screen and stage; while Claude, the youngest, a ceramist. The most famous among the three is the film director Jean Renoir whose films are considered among the greatest ever made and who won the Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1975.

Main Sources:-
Hulstrand, Janet. (April 22, 2017). “The Painter’s Wife: Aline Charigot Renoir and the Renoir Home in Essoyes”. France Revisited.
Thompson, Jennifer A. (2007). Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art, p. 82.

Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir – Famous French Director

#6 He is considered an Anti-Semite

The Dreyfus Affair was a major scandal in France which spilt the nation into pro-Republican Dreyfusards and pro-Army anti-Dreyfusards. It was caused by the wrongful treason conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer of Jewish descent. The scandal created a spilt among the Impressionists too with Renoir siding with the anti-Dreyfusards. Another primary reason of why many consider Renoir anti-Semitic is because, in her journal, Julie Manet has specifically cited several instances in which he spoke against the Jews. Among other things, he said that Jews “come to France to earn money, but if there is any fighting to be done they hide behind a tree”; and “if they keep getting thrown out of all countries, there must be a good reason for it”. However, in her book “Renoir: An Intimate Biography”, Barbara Ehrlich White argues that he made those remarks while in company of anti-Semites. She points out evidence to the contrary including his attendance at the Jewish artist Pissarro’s funeral; his friendship with his Jewish sister-in-law; and his exhibiting frequently with Jewish dealers.

Main Sources:-
Kline Nancy. (Dec. 8, 2017). “Great Art, Repugnant Politics”. The New York Times Company.
Ehrlich White, Barbara. (Dec. 22, 2017). “Letters to the Editor”. The New York Times Company.

Renoir An Intimate Biography
Renoir An Intimate Biography by Barbara Ehrlich White

#7 He continued to paint despite suffering from severe RA

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is caused when the immune system of the body starts attacking its own healthy cells. It is a chronic disease which mainly attacks the joints causing pain, stiffness and swelling. Pierre-Auguste Renoir suffered from severe RA during the latter part of his life. It is estimated that he might have got the disease as early as 1892 when he was 50 years old. By 1903, the disease had taken an aggressive form and it worsened further as he aged. In 1912, he suffered a stroke which partially paralyzed his arms and legs; and he became wheelchair bound. Despite the disease, Renoir remained a prolific artist in the last years of his life. Though it was not established at the time, he used physical exercise to handle the disease. He had great faith in walking; and played billiards and the difficult French ball game bilbouquet. Apart from exercise, he moved to the warmer climate in the south of France. The progressive deformities of his hands made it difficult for Renoir to pick up and hold his brush. He thus asked others to fix the brush in his deformed hands. It is commendable that, despite his deformed hands, he created more than 400 works of art in the last few years of his life.

Main Source:-
Annelies Boonen, Jan van de Rest, Jan Dequeker, Sjef van der Linden. (Dec, 1997). “How Renoir coped with rheumatoid arthritis”.

#8 Cats’ hair were used to date his paintings

Renoir was a lover of cats. He included them in many of his paintings. Famous examples include Sleeping Cat (1862), Woman with a Cat (1875) and Julie Manet with Cat (1887). Cats in his paintings are often used as symbols of motherhood and sensuality. As mentioned earlier, Renoir suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in the later years of his life. To lessen the pain of RA and keep himself warm while he painted, he often nursed one of the many cats that lived around his house. Interestingly, to check the authenticity of his paintings, Institut Pasteur in Paris used the cats’ hairs in the paint. This also helped them to date his paintings.

Main Source:-
Annelies Boonen, Jan van de Rest, Jan Dequeker, Sjef van der Linden. (Dec, 1997). “How Renoir coped with rheumatoid arthritis”.

Julie Manet with Cat (1887)
Julie Manet with Cat (1887) – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

#9 A miniature of his masterpiece sold for $78.1 million

Bal du moulin de la Galette is perhaps the most famous painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Created in 1876, it depicts a typical Sunday afternoon at Moulin de la Galette in the district of Montmartre in 19th Century Paris. Moulin de la Galette was an open-air dance-hall and cafe, close to Renoir’s home and one he frequently visited. Among other things, the painting is considered his best work as in it he skillfully combines the art of collective portrait, still life and landscape painting. It is one of Impressionism’s most celebrated masterpieces and has been described as “the most beautiful painting of the 19th century”. In 1990, a miniature version of this monumental work was purchased for $78.1 million ($141.7 million in 2021) by Japanese buyer Ryoei Saito. It was one of the most expensive artworks sold at auction at the time and it remains the auction record for a Renoir painting till date.

Main Sources:-
Stewart, Jessica. (Oct 11, 2020). “5 of Renoir’s Most Famous Paintings That Any Impressionism Lover Should Know”. My Modern Met.
Grenier, Elizabeth; Müser, Kate (Jan 30, 2021). “Most expensive artworks sold at auction”. Deutsche Welle.

Dance at Le moulin de la Galette (1876)
Dance at Le moulin de la Galette (1876) – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

#10 An Anti-Israel activist started an Anti-Renoir protest

Max Geller is an activist who organized two rallies in October 2015. The first was against Israel and the second was against Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Geller created an Anti-Renoir Instagram account in April, which gained 10,000 followers soon. His Renoir Sucks at Painting protest demanded to remove the paintings of Renoir from museums. Geller has staged protests outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and Chicago’s Art Institute. When asked why he hates Renoir, Geller stated that the artist was overrated and that “In real life, trees are beautiful. If you take Renoir’s word for it, you’d think trees are just a collection of green squiggles”.

Main Sources:-
Nathan-Kazis, Josh. (Nov 7, 2015). “When Anti-Israel Activist Blasts Renoir, Media Sits Up and Takes Notice”. The Forward Association.
Gajanan, Mahita. (Oct 6, 2015). “‘Renoir sucks at painting’ movement demands removal of artist’s works”. Guardian News & Media Limited.

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