Pierre-Auguste Renoir was the leading painter of the Impressionist movement at the end of the 1800s in France. Born in Limoges on the 25th of February 1841 in a familiy of modest means that moved to Paris, close by to the Louvre Museum, when the little Pierre-Auguste was three years old. Since very young he demonstrated artistic talent but as a singer and attracted the attention of the musician Charles Gounod, who tried to enrol him in the choir of the Opéra in Paris. Pierre-Auguste’s father was not supportive of Gounod’s musical plans but encouraged his son’s figurative skills, hoping he would become one day a porcelain decorateur in his home town of Limoges.
This soft-toned portrait, In Summer – En été, was painted in 1868 when Renoir he was 27, before the blossoming of the Impressionist movement, but already contains some impressionistic elements, like the roughy skeched out background, with broad brushstrokes of green tones. This is a portrait of Lise Tréhot, a young model frequently used by Renoir during this early period, possibly also his companion at the time. The painting was exhibited at the Salon de Paris in 1869 under the title En été, étude, with the word “étude” (French for “study”) added to deflect criticism of the impressionistic style of the background, as oppposed to more “finished” and formal portraits. The painting is now exhibited at the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
A typical example of the open-air painting promoted by the impressionists is this leisurly depiction, The Skiff, now exhibited at the National Gallery of London. Intense and contrasting colours define this tranquil and relaxing scene by the river Seine, close by to Paris, probably around Chatou or Asnières, with vivid reflections in the water and a steam train passing in the background. The painting technique, with complementary colours and quick brushstrokes, and the plain-air subject are characteristic of the newly established Impressionist art movement.
The young woman depicted in this delightful painting, perhaps not among Renoir’s best known, is Julie Allard, wife of Alphonse Daudet, novel and theatre writer.
In this portrait of great expressive intensity, Renoir privileged the three-quarter pose, focusing his attention on the sweet face of the woman. The artist was thus able to grasp the effects of light, with short touches of color, spread with rapid strokes, to render the charm of the atmosphere or, as in this case, of a face. This portrait was painted when Renoir was guest at the house of the Daudet family and is now exhibited at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
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