True to his words Pierre Auguste Renoir painted beautiful canvases that came alive with flowers, people, lush landscapes, and nudes so sensual, he felt he could pinch them. His delight in life of the Parisian street corner was intense. So much that he side-stepped academic studio practices of the nineteenth century to paint everyday scenes. When his exasperated art master remarked “No doubt you took up painting just to amuse yourself”, Renoir cheekily replied, “If it didn’t amuse me I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Born to needle-pusher parents at Limoges France in 1841, Renoir was noted as the child with the beautiful voice. But even at an early age he was clear that a musical career was ‘not his thing’. When his family moved to a house in the courtyard of Louvre in Paris, it brought him in close proximity with the Old Masters of art. Renoir’s first job was at a porcelain factory painting silhouettes of Marie-Antoinette on fine white cups. Accomplished at the job, he earned a comfortable income. However, his job was made obsolete by the introduction of a mechanical printing process.
Aged twenty-one years, Renoir now joined a well-known art school run by Charles Gleyre. Traditional in character, the studio provided the artist excellent training in painting. But it was in encouraging Renoir to paint outdoors in the forest of Fontainebleau, that the school contributed to developing his unique artistic style. It was also here that Renoir experienced a coalescence of minds with a band of talented young painters – Claude Monet, Frederic Bazille and Alfred Sisley among them.
Painting in the forest of Fontainebleau, Renoir and Monet tried to truthfully capture the light before it changed hues. This required them to paint very fast. So they often did not blend brush strokes. This sowed the seeds for what was to become the revolutionary Impressionist style of painting. Impressionism captures a fleeting glimpse of the subject in brisk strokes of pure color.
For years Renoir struggled as an artist. It was difficult to find agents and patrons who could see beauty in this new form of art. Those were years of financial hardships for the Impressionists. Till he found patrons like Victor Choquet and the Charpentier family, Renoir lived off portrait commissions. Meanwhile, artistically he was struggling to reconcile his impressionist techniques and what he had learned from the paintings of old masters. The result of his confusion was a harsh and impersonal style that fell flat.
Before long, Renoir realized his folly and learned to trust his own instincts. He started painting in bright, radiant colors which he had learned to handle with ease during his years as a porcelain painter. In his canvases he celebrated beauty and grace. But in spite of developing his own distinct style, never did he consider himself a revolutionary. He frequently visited museums and studied the old masters. And in fact his style was less harsh than the other impressionists, say Monet. Renoir created paintings beaming with colors, experimented on flowers the same flesh tint he used for his nudes, and his graceful gentle style was well-suited for painting children.
Renoir was a friendly Impressionist. He believed in the inherent goodness of man. The sociable and affectionate artist inspired great loyalty among his friends. Even though he was reserved in displaying his affection, through quiet acts of benevolence, he won over many. He also enjoyed matrimonial bliss with Aline, with whom he had several children.