A guide to the artist who was one of the founding fathers of Impressionism, and is famed today for his lush depictions of female sensuality — featuring works offered at Christie’s.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in 1841 in Limoges in south-west France. His father was a tailor and his mother was a dressmaker, which is perhaps significant given that he would go on to become fascinated by fashion.
In his early life he was appreciated more for his singing than for his drawing. He took music lessons until his family encountered financial difficulties, which forced him to leave school and begin work as a painter in a porcelain factory.
As a young man Renoir moved to Paris, entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and later joined the studio of Charles Gleyre (1806-1874). Although he sometimes didn’t have enough money to buy paint, he lived close to the Louvre, where he enjoyed studying the works of the Old Masters.
In 1869 Renoir began sketching beside the water at La Grenouillère, outside Paris, with Claude Monet. This was a seminal moment in the history of art as the two men simultaneously developed several of the theories, techniques and practices that would give rise to Impressionism, including using loose brushstrokes to capture the effects of light and movement on the trees and water at various times of day.
Renoir’s sun-dappled Sentier dans le bois, painted in 1874, is quintessentially Impressionist, focussing on the artist’s fleeting sensations before nature. The vibrating tissue of broken brushstrokes, a revolutionary departure from Salon norms, evokes the flickering play of sunlight as well as the gentle rustling of the breeze.
On occasion during the 1860s, Renoir submitted paintings that were accepted into the famous Salon exhibitions, as did Monet. But as their painterly experiments gathered pace in the 1870s, both artists found their works were repeatedly rejected.
Eventually, they ceased submitting pictures for consideration and when Monet started his own independent artists’ society, which became known as the Impressionists, Renoir was one of the first to join. He displayed six paintings in the First Impressionist Exhibition in April 1874.
Renoir painted figures in fashionable dress, positioning his models in modern settings: crowded boulevards, cafés, theatres, sun-dappled parks, and e