Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a preeminent French painter.
He was born in Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France, the child of a working class family. As a boy, he worked in a porcelain factory where his interest in painting led to him painting designs on china. In 1862 he studied art in Paris, where he met Alfred Sisley, Frederic Bazille and Claude Monet.
His initial paintings were influenced by the artistry of Eugène Delacroix and his close friend Monet who helped Renoir found the Impressionism movement. He would go on to become one of the greatest painters of his time. Today his paintings are probably the most popular, well-known, and frequently reproduced images in the history of art.
Although Renoir had his first exhibit of paintings in 1864 he did not gain any real recognition for another ten years due to the turmoil in Paris as a result of the Franco-Prussian War. During the Paris Commune in 1871, Pierre-Auguste Renoir was arrested as a government spy. His life was saved when he was recognized by one of the Commune leaders, whom Renoir had himself protected on another occasion. In the mid 1870s, the first exhibition was held for the new impressionist painters and Renoir gained his first great acclaim.
While living and working in Montmartre, he would have an affair with one of his models, Suzanne Valadon who would become one of the leading female artists of the day. He would later marry Aline Victorine Charigot, with whom he would have three sons, one of which, Jean Renoir, would become an important filmmaker. After marriage, his work changed when he became very much family oriented and was equally as interested in painting individual or family portraits as he was in landscapes.
In the 1870s, Renoir also produced some of his most celebrated Impressionist genre scenes, including The Swing (image at left) and The Ball at the Moulin de la Galette (both 1876). These works embody his most basic attitudes about art and life. They show men and women together, openly and casually enjoying a society diffused with warm, radiant sunlight. Figures blend softly into one another and into their surrounding space. Such worlds are pleasurable, sensuous, and generously endowed with human feeling.
A proflific artist, over a 60 year period, Pierre-Auguste Renoir made several thousand paintings, continuing to paint even during the last 20 years of his life when he was severely hampered by arthritis and wheelchair-bound. In 1907, he moved to the warmer climate of "Les Collettes," a farm at Cagnes-sur-Mer not far from the Mediterranean coast. There, he continued to paint by using a brush strapped to his arm. He even created sculptures, dictating to an assistant who worked the clay.
His late work is truly extraordinary: a glorious outpouring of monumental nude figures, beautiful young girls, and lush landscapes. Examples of this style include The Music Lesson (1891), Young Girl Reading (1892), and Sleeping Bather (1897). In many ways, the generosity of feeling in these paintings expands upon the achievements of his great work in the 1870s.
In 1919, Renoir had the extraordinary experience of visiting the Louvre to see his paintings hanging with the old masters.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, on December 3, 1919.
Two of Renoir's paintings have sold for more than $70 million. Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre sold for $78.1 million in 1990.
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