Pierre Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges, France, on February 25, 1841, the sixth of Leonard Renoir and Marguerite Merlet’s seven children. His father was a tailor and his mother was a dressmaker. His family moved to Paris in 1844. Showing a remarkable talent for drawing, Renoir became an apprentice in a porcelain factory where he painted designs on fine china. Later, after the factory had closed, he worked for his older brother, decorating fans, blinds and signs. Throughout these early years Renoir made frequent visits to the Louvre where he studied and developed a deep respect for the art of 18th Century French Rococo Masters.
In 1862 Renoir began to study painting seriously and entered the studio of the painter Charles Gleyre, where he met other artists such as Claude Monet. The 1860s were difficult years for Renoir. At times he was too poor to buy paints or canvas, and the national Salons of 1866 and 1867 rejected his artworks. The following year the Salon accepted his portrait of his girlfriend, Lise Trehot. Renoir continued to develop his work and to study the paintings of other artists of the day such as Manet and Courbet.
A revolution was beginning in French painting during the 1860s. A group of young painters began to rebel against the traditions of Western painting which was steeped in Realism. These artists began to paint outdoors, using nature as their inspiration, in an attempt to capture the nuances of light and atmosphere with quick bold strokes of color. As a result, their works revealed a look of freshness that rapidly departed from the style of the Old Masters. These new works were initially shunned by the public and art critics who considered them unfinished, underdeveloped and mere ‘impressions’ of subjects. The critic’s insult stuck and Impressionism was born. The group, which included Renoir, Monet, Sisley, Cassatt, Degas and others, were unable to gain acceptance into the official Salons and eventually created their own series of exhibitions called the Salon des Refuses.
Although the Impressionist exhibitions were the targets of much public scorn, Renoir’s popularity gradually increased and in time, he was backed by loyal art dealers and devoted collectors. His works depicted men and women together in casual social settings, vibrant intimate portraits, voluptuous nudes and lush landscapes full of emotion. In 1890, at the age of 49, Renoir made his first etching La Danse a la Compagne, based on his 1883 painting, which featured his brother Edmond and painter Suzanne Valadon. Renoir would eventually create approximately 55 different etchings and lithographs in his recognizable style.
In 1890 Renoir married Aline Charigot, his companion of almost ten years. They would have three sons in all. The artist quickly incorporated his family and relatives into his later works. It was during these later years that Renoir further developed his unique style—a blend of Classicism and Impressionism which featured radiant nude bathers and tender familial scenes.
Renoir’s health declined severely in his later years. In 1903 he suffered his first attack of arthritis and settled for the warmer climes at Cagnes-sur-Mer, in the South of France. The arthritis made painting painful, yet he continued to work, at times with a brush inserted between his crippled fingers. Pierre-Auguste Renoir died at Cagnes-sur-Mer on December 3, 1919, but not before experiencing a major artistic triumph: the State had purchased his 1877 portrait Madame Georges Charpentier and he traveled to Paris in August to see it hanging in the Louvre.