Pleasure-seeker though Renoir was he lived ascetically. Wholly a man of his period and living intensely, he was the realization of that type of artist who, detached from his period, nevertheless represents and describes it in its very essence. Renoir stood at one and the same time for the political and fashionable, bourgeois and republican salon of Mme Charpentier, -- for the suburban Sunday of the little employee and a waltz round the room with a little work-girl. Fully aware of the wretchedness of the irregular families of Montmartre, and to such an extent that he was the inventor of those day-nurseries which Mme Charpentier inaugurated later, he remained, however, indifferent to social evolution; and although he was a cuirassier at Bordeaux during the 1870 War, he was unmoved either by the defeat of his country or by the revolution which caused so much blood to flow in Paris.
And although, later, in 1910, in his preface to Ceninno Cennini's Livre de l'Art, he was to protest against machinism, the division of labour «which has transformed the workman into a mere tool and killed the joy of labour», -- although he was to regret the deplorable coupling of man and the machine, and the death of idealism among technicians of the future, Renoir, the painter-monk, was never to be interested in anything save his exclusive passion for art. In truth, it was such painters as Cézanne, Degas, Monet, and Van Gogh, -- those who exiled themselves in a sort of private monastery, -- who showed the greatest love and comprehension of life.
Renoir's social life was at first that of a needy little employee who, at his office-studio to the very minute and most exact in his work there, went early to bed, after his game of draughts or dominoes. Every form of excess he avoided so as to serve his master the better; but his master was painting, and the narrowness of his existence in those days was gradually enlarged and enlightened. Later, his life became that of a modest middleclass fundholder; and still it was art which engrossed him.
Young Renoir, although born at Limoges on February 25, 1841, was a child of Paris and of the suburbs, a frequenter of the balls on the Boulevards and of the circuses whenever one of these erected its tent at the city-gates. He loved to saunter on the Boulevard du Temple and, fond of melodrama, he was passionately fond, not only of La Tour de Nesle, Le Bossu, and La Dame deMontsoreau Montsoreau, but also of Alfred de Musset's comedies, which were then held in great disdain. Young Auguste's ambition was to work at the Sevres Manufactory and become an art-worker, so he entered a studio for painting on porcelain, -- a very natural profession for a native of Limoges possessed of taste and certain gifts. Economically and worthily he lived in the Rue d'Argenteuil with his family, the head of which was a tailor in a small way of business. Gounod, at one time, wanted to inveigle his little soloist of Saint-Eustache towards music, and Renoir, who had a sound knowledge of ancient and modern music, retained a desire to be connected with musicians, including Chabrier, Cabaner, and Wagner, whose portrait he painted at Palermo on January 15, 1882, on the day after that on which the great composer completed Parsifal.
On becoming a painter, Renoir, ever faithful to the suburbs, removed to Montmartre, and extended his field even to Asnières, where he found both great cordiality and many models. He also aspired to other faubourgs and in particular the faubourg Saint-Germain, where, in the Rue de Grenelle, Mme Charpentier reigned in her salon. And there he met the most celebrated men and women of the day in politics, literature and the arts,-- Gambetta, Zola, Edmond de Goncourt, Gustave Flaubert, Alphonse Daudet, Huysmans, Théodore de Banville, Carolus Duran, Henner, Jules Ferry, Judith Gautier, Jeanne Samary, Juliette Adam, and Maupassant, whose celebrity filled Goncourt and Zola with jealousy. Not that Renoir had an inordinate love for fashionable gatherings; he merely appreciated them because of the intelligence and the sympathy, as well as the atmosphere of the times to be found there. He often called upon Daudet, whose sensitiveness he so well understood; he was a constant reader of Verlaine; and he came under the influence of the charm of Mallarmé.
In his studio of the Rue Saint-Georges there came together a little circle composed of Paul Arène, Norbert Goeneutte, Théodore Duret, Chocquet, Maître Félix Bouchor, Cordey, Lestringuez, Cabaner, and Paul Lhote. At the Café Guerbois, and later at the Nouvelle Athènes, Renoir gladly encountered both the friends of his own studio and those of Mme Charpentier's salon, -- Mallarmé, Zola, Villiers de l'Isle Adam, Castagnary, Philippe Burty (who wrote critical articles in the République Française), Jules de Marthold (who filled the same rôle in the Monde Thermal), Jean Richepin (who had just published La Chanson des Gueux), Edouard Duranty, Charles Cros (who had just written Le Coffret de Santal), and also Manet, Degas, Marcellin Desboutin, Cézanne (but rarely), Guérard (the engraver, who married Eva Gonzalès), -- even Gervex and Carolus Duran, who was to fall through ambition.
He went there fairly regularly. «He used to arrive,» relates Georges Rivière, who also attended those gatherings, «with hurried step, a serious face, and absent-minded look, because his imagination always carried him far from the place where he might be. Seated in a corner, he rarely took part in the general conversation, and, almost indifferent to what was being said around him, he rolled between his fingers a cigarette, which he frequently allowed to go out; or with the charred end of a spent match he drew some insignificant line or other on the table.» In such a manner it was that Renoir traversed society.
Auguste Renoir, Ball at the Moulin De La Galette, Young Girls on the River Bank, Impressionism, Girls Picking Flowers in a Meadow, Picking Flowers, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, The Apple Seller, Alice Gamby in the Garden, Young Girl Sitting in the Grass, Dance at Bougival, Little Algerian Girl, Reading Woman, Deux Soeurs, Alphonsine Fournaise at the Grenouillere, Young Girls at the Piano, L'Estaque, Yvonne et Jean, La Baigneuse, In the Luxembourg Gardens, Jeune Fille Blonde, Auguste Renoir Portraits, Dahlias, The Little Fisherwoman (Marthe Berard), The Excursionist, On the Terrace, Baigneuse Au Griffon, Bather with Griffon, Lady with a Parasol, The Pond at Fees, La Loge
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