Today is the birthday (1841) of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, commonly known as Auguste Renoir, a French artist who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. Renoir 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 drawing talents led to his being chosen to paint designs on fine china. Before he enrolled in art school, he also painted hangings for overseas missionaries and decorations on fans. During those early years, he often visited the Louvre to study the French master painters.
In 1862, he began studying art under Charles Gleyre in Paris. There he met Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, and Claude Monet. Renoir had his first success at the Salon of 1868 with his painting Lise with a Parasol (1867), which depicted Lise Tréhot, his lover at the time. Although Renoir first started exhibiting paintings at the Paris Salon in 1864, recognition was slow in coming, partly as a result of the turmoil of the Franco-Prussian War.
In 1874, a ten-year friendship with Jules Le Cœur and his family ended, and Renoir lost not only the valuable support gained by the association, but also a generous welcome to stay on their property near Fontainebleau and its scenic forest. This loss of a favorite painting location resulted in a distinct change of subjects.
After a series of rejections by the Salon juries, Renoir joined forces with Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, and several other artists to mount the first Impressionist exhibition in April 1874, in which Renoir displayed six paintings. Although the critical response to the exhibition was largely unfavorable, Renoir’s work was comparatively well received. That same year, two of his works were shown with Durand-Ruel in London.
Hoping to secure a livelihood by attracting portrait commissions, Renoir displayed mostly portraits at the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. He contributed a more diverse range of paintings the next year when the group presented its third exhibition; they included Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette and The Swing. Renoir did not exhibit in the fourth or fifth Impressionist exhibitions, and instead resumed submitting his works to the Salon. By the end of the 1870s, particularly after the success of his painting Mme Charpentier and her Children (1878) at the Salon of 1879, Renoir was a successful and fashionable painter.
In 1881, he traveled to Algeria, a country he associated with Eugène Delacroix, then to Madrid, to see the work of Diego Velázquez. Following that, he traveled to Italy to see Titian’s masterpieces in Florence and the paintings of Raphael in Rome. On 15 January 1882 Renoir met the composer Richard Wagner at his home in Palermo, Sicily. Renoir painted Wagner’s portrait in just thirty-five minutes. In the same year, after contracting pneumonia which permanently damaged his respiratory system, Renoir convalesced for six weeks in Algeria.
In 1883, Renoir spent the summer in Guernsey, one of the islands in the English Channel with a varied landscape of beaches, cliffs and bays, where he created fifteen paintings in little over a month. Most of these feature Moulin Huet, a bay in Saint Martin’s, Guernsey. These paintings were the subject of a set of commemorative postage stamps issued by the Bailiwick of Guernsey in 1983.
While living and working in Montmartre, Renoir employed Suzanne Valadon as a model, who posed for him (The Large Bathers, 1884–87; Dance at Bougival, 1883) and many of his fellow painters; during that time she studied their techniques and eventually became one of the leading painters of the day.
In 1890, he married Aline Victorine Charigot, who, along with a number of the artist’s friends, had already served as a model for Le Déjeuner des canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party) 1881, and with whom he had already had a child, Pierre, in 1885. After his marriage, Renoir painted many scenes of his wife and daily family life including their children and their nurse, Aline’s cousin Gabrielle Renard. The Renoirs had three sons: Jean Renoir, who became a filmmaker of note, Pierre Renoir, who became a stage and film actor, and Claude Renoir, who became a ceramic artist.
Around 1892, Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis. In 1907, he moved to the warmer climate of “Les Collettes,” a farm at Cagnes-sur-Mer, close to the Mediterranean coast. Renoir painted during the last twenty years of his life even after his arthritis severely limited his mobility. He developed progressive deformities in his hands and ankylosis of his right shoulder, requiring him to change his painting technique. It has often been reported that in the advanced stages of his arthritis, he painted by having a brush strapped to his paralyzed fingers, but this is erroneous; Renoir remained able to grasp a brush, although he required an assistant to place it in his hand. The wrapping of his hands with bandages, apparent in late photographs of the artist, served to prevent skin irritation.
In 1919, Renoir visited the Louvre to see his paintings hanging with those of the old masters. During this period, he created sculptures by cooperating with a young artist, Richard Guino, who worked the clay. Due to his limited joint mobility, Renoir also used a moving canvas, or picture roll, to facilitate painting large works.
Renoir died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, on 3 December 1919.
Renoir is known to have had very little interest in fine food, and mostly ate very plain dishes. Some critics have, for example, pointed out that in Le Déjeuner des canotiers there’s no real representation of what the lunch is, or was, beyond a scattering of fruit. Renoir happily painted still lifes of fruit and vegetables (or a piece of meat), but not anything cooked.
Renoir’s home town of Limoges has a few distinctive features. One of them is the dish boudin noir aux deux pommes, which can be made in several ways although the ingredients are basically the same: blood sausage, apples, and potatoes. The apple and potato mix (deux pommes) is a pun on “pommes” which can mean “apples” or “potatoes” (where “pommes” is short for “pommes de terre.”) The blood sausage (boudin noir) is a Limoges specialty with added chestnuts.
© Boudin Noir aux Deux Pommes
250 g black pudding
500 g potatoes, peeled and mashed
500 g apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tbsp butter
2 onions, peeled and sliced
4 tbsp melting cheese grated
freshly grated nutmeg
Melt the butter over medium high heat in a heavy skillet and sauté the apple slices until they are soft. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Add the onions to the pan and sauté until translucent, then add the black pudding and continue to sauté until it is warmed through.
Grease a baking dish. Put in a layer of mashed potato seasoned with nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste, then the black pudding and onions, then another layer of seasoned potato, then the sliced apples, and top with grated cheese. Bake in a 150°C oven for about 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted.