Cats are probably not the first thing that come to mind when you think of the art of Pierre Auguste Renoir, but he did create some stunning paintings with cats as subjects. His love of nature and the creatures within it was no secret. He was endlessly fascinated by the forms he saw around him in every day life – including cats. The cats depicted by Renoir are life-like, stunningly beautiful, romantic (as were all of his paintings), and childlike in nature.
“One must from time to time attempt things that are beyond one’s capacity.” -Renoir
Renoir was born to a working-class family in Limoges, France, on February 25th 1841. While he was still a young child, his family moved to Paris, not far from the Louvre. His proximity to the Louvre would forever change his life as it became the place that inspired most of his learning.
As a young man, Renoir became an apprentice porcelain painter. His already developing technique allowed him to paint designs on fine china, however, Renoir was not satisfied with just painting porcelain. By age 19, he began taking classes on free drawing and spending a lot of time at the Louvre studying the techniques of the the greats by copying their work.
In 1862, Renoir entered Ecole des Beaux-Arts, an important art school in France. It was here that he met some of the life-long friends that would inspire him and help him through difficult times – Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cézanee. Renoir’s first work to be accepted into a Paris Salon exhibit was a portrait of Alfred Sisley’s father, William Sisley.
During the early part of his career, Renoir had a difficult time making enough money to survive. It is said that often he didn’t have enough money to buy paint. He lived off of whatever commissions he could make and the kindness of others. He didn’t even have a fixed address.
“Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.”
Renoir was forced to take a break from art in 1870 when he was drafted into the Franco-Prussian War. Not long after he was drafted, Renoir became ill with Dysentery; the illness would keep him from ever seeing battle. His good friend Frédéric Bazille was killed in battle.
Once the war was over, Renoir returned to his art. He and his friends (Pissarro, Monet, Cézanne, and Edgar Degas) had their first showing of Impressionist art. They were separating themselves from classical artists in calling themselves impressionists. Renoir’s art was different than what people were used to seeing because it used a brighter palette and differing brush strokes. His paintings were like snapshots of life, full of warmth, light, and color.
The showing of the Impressionist art was not a success. One important thing did come of the showing, however, Renoir was found by the patrons that would propel his career to the next level. Georges and Marguérite Charpentier loved Renoir’s paintings. They began inviting him to their upper-class social gatherings where he met other upper-class patrons and made commissions from their portraits. Renoir’s first painting to receive critical admiration was “Madame Charpentier and her Children (1878).”
“An artist, under pain of oblivion, must have confidence in himself, and listen only to his real master: Nature.” – Renior
With his new success and the money from his commissions, Renoir began to travel. In a return toward the classical style of art, Renoir began to take a formal, disciplined approach to his paintings. He concentrated drawing the figures and emphasizing outlines. Landscapes became the subject of this new period in his painting.
While traveling he created many great works. In Italy he visited famous composer Richard Wagner and painted his portrait in an amazing 35 minutes. In Germany he painted 15 landscapes in a little over a month and these paintings would be featured on commemorative postage stamps in 1983. His famous works “Dance in the City“, “Dance in the Country“, and “Dance at Bougival” were all completed in his journeys. In 1887, when Queen Victoria was celebrating her Golden Jubilee, a representative of the British Monarchy asked Renoir to donate some of his work to “French Impressionist Paintings.”
“The pain passes, but the beauty remains.” – Renoir
Finished with his travels, Renoir settled down and married his long time girlfriend, Arline Charigot in 1890. The pair would have 3 children: Pierre (1885), Jean (1894), and Claude (1901). He had a home built for his family in Cagnes sur mer in 1907. At this time Renoir returned to his older style – thinly brushed colors and diminished outlines. He began to take a strong interest in all things domestic painting his family going about their daily routines. This was also the period where his famous nudes were painted.
Toward the end of his career, Renoir suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. Eventually the disease would cause his fingers to become paralyzed and permanently curled. In 1912, Renoir suffered a stroke and would be confined to a wheel chair for the rest of his life. He didn’t let any of his maladies keep him from his work. He hired assistants and would strap a paint brush to his hand so he could work. A moving canvas was used to assist with his limited mobility. He even tried sculpting with the help of an assistant. After seeing one of his works of art purchased by the Louvre and hung beside one of his favorite artists, Renoir passed away December 3, 1919 in his home.
Renoir’s work would influence many other famous artists. A few of these were Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, and Pablo Picasso. His son Jean became a filmmaker and his son Pierre became an actor for both stage and film. In 1991, Renoir’s “Bal au moulin de la Galette Montmatre” sold for $78.1 million.