Happy 175th birthday, Renoir!

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a founding member of the group that would come to be known as the Impressionists, was born on this day in 1841.  And although some may associate the artist with “pretty” paintings of women, men, and even children enjoying leisurely pursuits, with his work, there is so much more than meets the eye.  Fortunately, the Dixon has several examples of Renoir’s work to help us understand this complex artist.   

Growing up the son of a tailor in Limoges, France, Renoir began his career as an artist painting china in his hometown, eventually saving enough money to pursue a career as a painter in Paris.  Once in Paris, he befriended Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley and embraced the freer style of painting that would become the hallmark for the Impressionist movement.   

Each summer between 1879 and 1882, Renoir traveled to Wargemont near Dieppe on the Normandy coast to visit his friend and patron Paul Bérard.  There, he completed a series of seascapes that represent some of the more audacious and experimental work of his career.  During his last summer at Wargemont in 1882 he painted The Wave, a view of the English Channel, churning with unusual fury as the sky goes dark from a storm and distant sailboats make for safe harbor. Renoir would appear to be literally standing in the surf as he renders the immediacy and force of a wave crashing onto the shoreline.  He captures its fleeting nature with the deft use of a palette knife, building up layers of buttery impasto that swirl into foam, sand, and mist.    

 The Wave

By the early 1890s, Renoir, convinced that he had “wrung Impressionism dry,” turned to his family for inspiration, painting them participating in everyday activities.  The Picture Book, completed around 1897, probably represents Renoir’s son Jean, gazing intently on a brightly-illustrated children’s book.  Interestingly, Renoir tended to feminize his three sons when painting them, exaggerating their rosy cheeks and soft, golden locks of hair.  Regardless, The Picture Book remains an intimate and loving view of the artist’s son and is one of the most beloved works in the Dixon’s collection.   

 The Picture Book

Toward the end of his career, Renoir, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, moved to the town of Cagnes-sur-mer on the French Riviera, where he took up residence at a farm known as Les Collettes.  The beautiful scenery of the farm became the subject of many of his later works, including the painting seen here.  Despite the pain his arthritis caused him, in Les Collettes Renoir was still able to create a remarkably expressive and intimate view of the Cagnes landscape.  The copper plate engraving, Paysage, though completed half a decade later, is of the same stylistic period. Published by the renowned French art dealer Ambroise Vollard, it echoes the lavish softness of Renoir's late work.   

 Les Colletes


Come see all of these works by Renoir (and more!) starting April 24 in the exhibition, The Impressionist Revolution: Forty Years of French Art at the Dixon.   

Captions: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Wave, 1882; Oil on canvas; Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Museum purchase from Cornelia Ritchie and Ritchie Trust No. 4 pro-vided through a gift from the Robinson Family Fund 1996.2.12   

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Picture Book, ca. 1895; Oil on canvas; Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Museum purchase, 1978.4   

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Les Collettes, ca. 1914; Oil on canvas; On loan to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens from the Ritchie Collection   

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paysage, 1919; Copper plate engraving in black ink on Arches wove paper; Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Harry R. Mahood, 2015.3.1

Posted by Chantal Drake at 12:05 PM
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