Yesterday, we saw how prolific a painter Renoir was, not just in the number of paintings he produced, but also in the versatility of his subjects.
Today we look at the man behind the paintings, with some examples of his human values and interactions with his friends gleaned from two accounts of his private life.1
It seems Renoir was a very sociable, insightful, funny and kind man as illustrated by this painting set in Renoir's home studio in Montmartre, which includes his lifelong friend artist Camille Pisarro. I wonder what they were all talking about?
Note: All images courtesy of pierre-auguste-renoir.org, unless otherwise stated
Reading about his private relationships I was impressed by the wisdom and support Renoir showed to his friends (including many of his artistic colleagues) and their children in navigating daily lives, not just in artistic pursuits.
Renoir was not only close friends with Pisarro but also Claude Monet and sometimes they used to paint side by side in the outdoors. They would paint the same scene, but from slightly different angles……. such as these two paintings of Boats on the Seine at Argenteuil(top), and of La Grenouille (the Frog Pond) (below). Renoir's work is on the left, and Monet's on the right.
Renoir was a very sociable man, often out with his friends on the Seine, or on holidays, or gathering for picnics. He used a number of his friends in some of his most famous, "people" outdoor paintings. For example, in Le Déjeuner des Canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party), below left, his wife Aline is the woman on the left playing with the dog, and his friend and fellow Impressionist, boating enthusiast and patron Gustav Caillebotte is on the lower right hand side. Many of his friends also appear in Moulin (Dance) de la Gallette, below right.
His brother, Edmond, is the man with the binoculars in La Loge, The Theatre Box, on the left, below. The painting below, right features his wife Aline and their son Pierre. Bottom, left, Monet's wife, Camille, is relaxing with her son, Jean, and Monet reading a newspaper is on the bottom right. The significance of Renoir's relationships with these people is immortalised in his wonderful paintings.
But his friendships were far from superficial as exemplified by his relationship with Gustav Caillebotte who was 7 years younger than Renoir. Caillebotte came from a wealthy family and bought a number of the Impressionist paintings for his own collection. He made Renoir the Executor of his will in 1876, and Renoir also asked him to stand as Godfather to his first son, Pierre, in 1885. Caillebotte died prematurely of a stroke in 1894, at only age 45, so Renoir then had the job of handling his estate and the paintings Caillebotte had acquired.
But for me the greatest illumination of Renoir's private life and relationships comes from the diary of Juliet Manet, daughter of Berthe Morisot. 1
Julie makes numerous references to “Monsieur Renoir” in her diary, written from 1893 to 1899. She mentions many social gatherings, from his regular attendance at the Thursday Night Gatherings at the Morisot/Manet house before her parents’ deaths, through to his continuing support when she and her cousins were all left orphans by the mid 1890s. Renoir painted both Julie and Berthe numerous times.
From Julie Manet’s diary I learnt that “Monsieur Renoir,” after the death of Berthe when Julie was just 16 years old, acted as both a mentor for her painting, and also as a friend, taking Julie and her (also orphaned) cousins on holidays with the family, having them over for dinner and walks etc. Here are some of Julie’s comments in her diary which show something of Renoir’s character
Julie says in her diary:
“After spending the summer in M. Renoir’s company, I am struck with the thought that one ought to know how to do a little of everything, and be skilful at it – M. Renoir repeats this constantly, and one gets it into one’s head eventually. He has a great deal of influence over the young people who admire him, and says such philosophical things, so charmingly, that one automatically believes them. If only all men of his age could have as good an influence over young people…………”.
After a walk with Renoir at Clairvaux in October 1897, Julie writes:
“M. Renoir told me: “If one was never ill, one wouldn’t enjoy health; if it didn’t rain, one wouldn’t enjoy fine weather. One has to see things that are less attractive from time to time; the pleasure of life is in the element of surprise…………”.
After her guardian, Stephane Mallarme’s sudden death in September 1898, Julie’s diary says about Renoir:
"As he could see we were saddened, he tried to distract us – he is really very kind with his manner of paying attention to nothing, while thinking of everything.”
In January 1899, Julie recalls a sentence she overheard when Renoir was leaving the Manet house after one of the Thursday night soirees, some years before:
“He was speaking of all Maman’s (Berthe Morisot) qualities, saying, "....... and with all that, any other woman would find a way of being quite unbearable’.” (Hilarious!!)
And another entry, mentioning a freezing visit to the seaside at Dieppe with the Renoirs:
”Monsieur didn’t want to rent one of the frightful chalets here, but Madame Renoir did; so they rented one”….. (Also hilarious!!)
And lastly, this entry on Tuesday 28th of September 1897:
“Monsieur Renoir attacked all the latest mechanical contraptions, saying that we are living in a world of decadence where people think of nothing but travelling at dozens of kilometres an hour, that it serves no useful purpose, that the automobile is an idiotic thing; that there is no need to go so fast………. What is the point of going so fast?
Renoir appears to have been a remarkable man, not only talented in both singing and artistry, but also sociable, funny, insightful and kind, with a strong sense of duty in supporting his friends and family.
If you wish to read a further description of his life and works, as provided by Wikipedia, click here.
If you wish to read our blog about Julie Manet, click here
If you'd like to read our blog about Julie's mother, Berthe Morisot, click here.
Little Known Fact: After the end of the Franco-Prussian war, a radical revolutionary government took over Paris. One day, Renoir was painting on the banks of the Seine when he was captured by a group of government officials who thought he was a spy for the French Army. He was hauled off to be executed by the resident firing squad. But one of the Commune leaders, Raoul Rigault, recognised Renoir as the man who had saved him from Napoleon’s police some years earlier. The story of exactly how he did this varies, but it appears he acted with no thought except to help another at the time. But Rigault never forgot the man who helped him, and used his position in the Commune to have him spared from the firing squad. Lucky for the world that he did!
- Sue Roe’s book “The Private Lives of the Impressionists” and Julie Manet’s diary “Growing up with the Impressionists”, as translated by Rosalind de Borland Roberts and Jane Roberts.