Inspiration Pierre-Auguste Renoir Paintings and Curious Facts about his Life and Career

Ardak Kassenova

Who was Renoir? What are some curious facts about his life not many know? Where are some of the famous Renoir paintings today?

To celebrate Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s 180th birth anniversary this year, let’s take a look at the most famous Renoir paintings and examine facts about the life and career of the artist who inspired one of our most loved ZenART Renoir Collection.

Who was Pierre-Auguste Renoir?
Early Life in Art
Fashionable Life and Impressionism
Later Years
ZenART Renoir Collection
Curious Facts About Renoir
Where are the famous Renoir paintings displayed?

“Renoir is the guardian of a courtly tradition that stretches from the Renaissance through the French Rococo to the boating parties of the 19th-century bourgeoisie. He lived through two wars, but it never occurred to him that art was about war or politics. It existed to enhance life.” —Jonathan Jones, British Art Critic

Who was Pierre-Auguste Renoir?

Pierre Auguste Renoir was a French artist recognised as one of the founders of Impressionism along with his close friend, Claude Monet. Known for the remarkable radiant light and lush aesthetic of his pieces, often depicting pleasant landscapes, voluptuous women and the charming 19th-century Parisian scenes, Renoir’s body of work is a celebration of beauty and sensuality. Today, the Renoir paintings are one of the most expensive and sought after of impressionist works.

Early Life in Art

Pierre Auguste Renoir was born on February 25, 1841, in Limoges, a small town south of Paris, France. Renoir was the sixth of Leonard Renoir and Marguerite Merle’s seven children. His parents were artisans, Leonard, his father was a tailor and his mother, Marguerite was a dressmaker. Little is known or written about Renoir’s parents except that they lived a modest life. This is likely why the family moved to Paris in 1845 in search of better opportunities.

Portrait de la mère de Renoir (1860) by Pierre Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas, a portrait Renoir’s mother

Renoir started showing remarkable talent in art so his parents apprenticed him to work in a porcelain factory at age 13. Through this apprenticeship, Renoir learned to paint intricate flowers on porcelain plates. Later, when he lost his job at the factory, he would progress to painting on fans and then religious iconography on cloth panels for the visiting missionaries. Throughout these years, Renoir would regularly visit the Louvre to admire and study the works of earlier French masters.

Left: Alfred Sisley (1864) and Right: Frédéric Bazille Painting at his Easel (1867) both by Pierre Auguste Renoir.

In 1862, with the help of his little savings and continuous day work, he enrolled himself to take evening courses in drawing and anatomy at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts. He also enrolled at the studio of Swiss academic painter, Charles Gleyre. It is in this studio that Pierre-Auguste Renoir met Alfred Sisley, Claude Monet, and Frédéric Bazille. It was Frédéric Bazille who introduced the group to Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissaro. Together, the group shared similar ideals which eventually led to a strong friendship.

Fashionable Life and Impressionism

In 1865, Renoir was introduced by a patron and friend, artist Jules Le Coeur to model Lise Tréhot who would later become the muse in almost all notable figurative Renoir paintings from 1866 to 1872. He submitted a number of entries to the Salon de Paris with Lise Tréhot as the subject. A nude Diana the Huntress in 1867 and finally, Lise with Umbrella in 1868 which was selected and favorably received by the Salon. This opened up portrait commissions for Renoir.

Left: Lise With Umbrella (1868) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Right: Lise Tréhot, Renoir’s model and lover from 1866 to 1872.

In 1869, Monet and Renoir—being close friends since they met at the studio of Charles Gleyre— went to a lakeside boating resort for the middle class just outside of Paris, La Grenouillère, and stayed there to paint for two months. It was in this summer that the two started experimenting with quick loose brushstrokes to capture the scenes and the reflective effect of light on their subjects, visible in their almost similar paintings La Grenouillère.

Above: La Grenouillère (1869) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Below: La Grenouillère (1869) by Claude Monet.

Renoir liked being with the Parisian elite society, given his fondness for beauty since he was young. He also became part of a fashionable group who frequented the hip Cafe Guerbois in Montmartre for discussions and planning amongst artists, writers and art lovers. They were called The Batignolles at some point, the bohèmes or the bohemians. The group centered on Édouard Manet and regularly joined by artists Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas, Émile Zola, Frédéric Bazille, Henri Fantin-Latour, Claude Monet and sometimes Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro.

A painting of the Batignolles, the artist group who frequent Cafe Guerbois. Seen in the piece is Manet, painting, surrounded by artist friends Renoir (the hat-wearing man behind Manet), Monet (at the far right) and Bazille (in front of Monet) among others. A Studio at Les Batignolles (1870) by Henri Fantin-Latour, Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

After the swift Franco-Prussian War, in 1871, Renoir’s career went downhill. He continued to submit paintings to the Salon de Paris to no success. He struggled to get commissions because of this and as a result, also struggled with his finances. In 1873 soon after the Salon, his friends banded together to plan an independent exhibition that is free of the strict constraints of the prestigious Paris Salon. This as we know was the start of the Impressionists. Renoir even gave the initial name of the group—Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs.

Cover of the catalogue Première Exposition by the Société Anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs et Graveurs, April 15 to May 15, 1874 at 35 boulevard des Capucines in Paris in the studios of a famous photographer of the time, Nadar. Printed in Paris by Alcan-Lévy

They rebelled against Salon de Paris’ preference for academic art over modern art and independently exhibited their works together along with other artists. Their first exhibition took place in 1874 at the former studio of the contemporary French photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, better known as Nadar. On that very occasion, Claude Monet’s painting Impression: Sunrise (1872) inspired an art critic to call all the artists “impressionists,” in a satiric way, which Renoir, Monet and the whole group embraced. It was in this exhibition that Renoir started getting the attention of potential patrons.

The Dancer (1874) and The Theater Box (1874) are two of six Renoir paintings included in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874

By 1878 during the fourth exhibition of the Impressionist, Renoir was already able to keep himself financially stable through regular portrait commissions while the Salon de Paris jury started to eye him favorably. It was also around this time that Renoir started losing interest in the “spontaneity” of Impressionism. By the end of the decade, Renoir moved towards infusing a more classical approach and composition to his existing style while retaining his luminous palette. This is evident in the Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881), one of the most famous Renoir paintings.

The catalogue of Renoir’s very successful first solo exhibition at the Galeries Durand-Ruel in Paris in 1892.

Renoir married his long time model Aline Charigot in 1890 and by 1892 opened his first solo exhibition through Paul Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris. This exhibition was a massive success, securing Renoir and his family’s future. Around this time, he and Aline already lived a comfortable life with their three children—Pierre, Jean and Claude.

Renoir with family at his studio in 73 rue Caulaincourt, Paris (ca. 1902-03). Left to right: Aline Charigot with infant Claude Renoir, Jean Renoir, Pierre Renoir and Paul-Auguste Renoir. Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

Later Years

Renoir developed rheumatism a few years after his major exhibition in Paris which prompted him to often seek refuge in the southern parts of Paris where the climate is warmer. By 1896, Renoir was doing so well in his career that he was able to buy a house in Aline’s hometown, Essoyes, south of Paris. Later in 1907, he purchased another property, the Les Collettes estate in Cagnes-sur-Mer, farther south of France near the coast. Renoir loved the farmhouse in his estate but still had a big neo-provencal style manor built especially for Aline. The house was erected based on the plans of the famous architect Jules Febvre.

The farmhouse at Les Collettes, at Renoir’s estate, now called Musée Renoir.
At his estate, Les Collettes, Renoir had this manor built in the neo-provençal style especially for Aline. 
Par MOSSOT — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 3.0 commons.wikimedia.org

Despite his illness, Renoir continued making art. His subjects became more intimate, often portraying his wife and children. In 1915, his wife Aline died shortly after visiting their son, Jean at Gerardmer who was seriously wounded from the war. Four years later, Renoir suffered a heart attack and a few days later died in his estate in Cagnes-sur-Mer, surrounded by his sons.

ZenART Renoir Collection

Our Renoir Collection brush set is a 14-piece set of professional brushes inspired by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, specifically designed for oil and heavy-bodied acrylics. The brushes are handcrafted with long lacquered, birchwood handles, semi-stiff badger and synthetic mix fibres for distinctive strokes and blending, and stiff Chungking hog bristles for base coats and creating texture.

The Renoir Collection is designed for artists who value versatility and a wider array of brush markings. Five out of 13 brushes are of filbert shape – in different sizes from 12 to 4 in various stiffness, so much loved by Renoir and other impressionists, plus other very useful shapes and like flat, bright, angle, fan, rounds and detail, plus 1”-wide glazing brush and a handy palette knife for your color-mixing.

ZenART Renoir Collection inspired by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

All brushes are packed and presented in a luxurious satin travel case, all ready for your studio or plein air painting. With the sunny bright days coming, we are sure you’ll be inspired by Renoir and our Renoir Brush Collection to go out and paint outdoors, which is great for your art and for your health, too.

Curious Facts About Renoir

Pierre Auguste Renoir is one of the founders of Impressionism and the one responsible for giving their group the initial unschool-like name Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs. Now that we’ve learned a general overview of his life, let’s explore some Renoir facts that you probably didn’t know.

#1 Young Renoir was recognized first for his singing

Earlier in Renoir’s childhood, he was recognized more for his singing. His teachers introduced him to the then-not-yet-known composer Charles Gounod, who at that time was a choirmaster of Saint Eustache church boy’s choir. He gave young Renoir private lessons as well as a seat at the choir. Gounod also offered to give Renoir a scholarship to complete formal music education. Unfortunately, despite the generous offer, his parents still would not be able to afford it. Renoir left the life of a performer to instead begin an apprenticeship in a porcelain factory in Paris.

#2 Renoir paintings and Impressionism became well-known around the world because of the support of French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel.

Paul Durand-Ruel championed the Impressionists even when France ignored them. He was Monet and Renoir’s art dealer, patron, and cheerleader. His care for the Impressionists took various forms, from buying their works in bulk to taking care of everything from rent, tailors and paint supplies to doctor’s bills. He was also responsible for bringing the Impressionist works to America which was a huge success.

Portrait of Charles and Georges Durand-Ruel (1882) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir commons.wikimedia.org

#3 Renoir lived to see his art collected and exhibited by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the National Gallery of London and the Louvre Museum.

Renoir was able to visit his painting the Portrait of Madame Georges Charpentier (1876-77) in Paris months before his death. It is said that several friends wheeled him through the Louvre Museum to view his piece hung along with the earlier masters he had admired his entire life. Today, his pieces can be viewed at the Musee d’Orsay, where all Louvre’s collections past the period of the Revolutions of 1848 were moved in 1986.

Portrait of Madame Georges Charpentier (1876-77) by Pierre Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas

Where are the famous Renoir paintings displayed?

Pierre-Auguste Renoir paintings are known for their beauty and sensuality. A prolific artist, Renoir’s paintings undoubtedly aimed to enhance life. Scattered all over private collections and major museums worldwide, are you wondering where the most notable ones are?

Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, 1876

Considered to be among the masterpieces of Renoir, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette is another picture of everyday life in the fashionable Montmartre in Paris. The painting depicts the courtyard of the Moulin de la Galette where people gather to drink, dine and dance. It is currently housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The smaller version of this painting with the same title was sold in a Sotheby’s auction back in 1990 for $78 million which is equivalent to $161 million today.

The Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881

Luncheon of the Boating Party, (1881) Oil on canvas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, commons.wikimedia.org

Renoir paintings often depict the charming Parisian bourgeoisie life as if everyday is bright and happy. In The Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir painted his friends, enjoying the day and having conversations over food and wine on the balcony of the Maison Fournaise restaurant, overlooking the Seine in Paris. This painting is currently housed at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC.

If you enjoyed this feature, then you’ll also like our piece on Claude Monet: Famous Claude Monet Paintings and Curious Facts About His Life and Career. Which Renoir fact is your favorite? Are you inspired to create an artwork outdoors in Renoir style? Share your thoughts below! And if you are a modern impressionist, please share your artwork with us and our amazing artist-community! We’d love to read your comments and see your art.


Ardak Kassenova, ZenART Supplies co-founder, @ardak_zenart

Ardak Kassenova is a London based contemporary artist, co-founder and creative director of ZenART Supplies. Her visual style—contemporary impressionism—share similar aesthetic qualities with those by the French Impressionists. After 20 years of a successful corporate career, becoming a mother to two wonderful girls, and with the continuous development of her practice by taking private lessons from the best artists she could find; Ardak decided it’s time to align her life with her true passion, Art. Driven by this passion and her corporate leadership background, she co-founded ZenART.

My heart and soul were always with Art, and since my childhood as long as I remember myself, I was dreaming to be an artist. I was painting after work, when I had time, and teaching myself through the books, videos, visiting art galleries and museums. I’ve been very curious about different techniques and styles, and therefore accumulated knowledge and experience on a variety of mediums.” 

Read more about Ardak Kassenova in this feature. Say hello to @ardak_zenart on Instagram!

Pierre Auguste Renoir, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pierre-Auguste-RenoirAngry Young Man, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2007/feb/12/art.features11
21 Facts About Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Sotheby’s, https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/21-facts-about-pierre-auguste-renoir