Woman, as a product of nature, was, in Renoir's eyes, a producer. That was her function. She was a tree which bore fruit. With her strong haunches and ripe breasts, she was ever ready to be fecundated and give birth to little ones. At the sight of woman's tender fruit, Renoir was filled with enthusiasm. A man of nature in his plenitude, he was ready to commune with all the effects of nature. He did not wait to be a father himself in order to love children. His art is not the glorification of the feminine, but a hymn in praise of childhood.
What, indeed, he sought to discover when he painted a woman was that which remains from the child, -- the luminous sweetness of the skin, the delicacy of the flesh, or, if one may so express it, woman before the fall. The woman who brings forth, -- there we have a symbol of that which is transitory and at the same time stable, -- she symbolizes the seizure of that which is fleeting (the sole ambition of impressionism) and the fixing of that which remains (the ideal of classicism with its desire for permanence and eternity); she is symbolic of the whole joy of the present, the joy of that reality we can touch and caress, -- symbolic, too, of hope in the future, of the pride we take in a continuation of life, of the faun-like desire to procreate, and of the satisfaction there is in survival, -- Man's pride when he thinks that thus he has conquered Death.
The child was also an object of meditation to Renoir. First of all and without clearly understanding he looked at other people's children with curiosity, -- those, for instance, we see in his pictures of Mlle Romaine Lanceux (1864), La Mère et ses Filles (1874), in which three pairs of eyes are arranged in a triangle, and L'Enfant au Polichinelle (1874), which recalls those lines of Verlaine: ... deux bons yeux dans la tête, Quelque chose de dur et de doux à la fois.
Then come, like so many pointers towards the future mighty poem in praise of childhood, Mlle Legrand (1875), Mlle Durand-Ruel (1875), the children of Mme Charpentier ( 1878), the little girls in the picture La Pêcheuse de Moules (1879), Thérèse Bérard (1879) and her sisters whom he knew better since he went every year to Wargemont, and where, already, he perceived the astonished yet knowing gravity of children; La Fillette au Faucon (1880), Mlle Grimpel au ruban rouge and au ruban blett (1880), and Mlle Irène Cahen d'Anvers (1880). Baby's first footsteps (depicted in 1878) delighted him in the Luxembourg Gardens (as witness a picture of 1883) he observed the little boys rolling their hoops, and as La Jeune Mère of 1881 shows, he already loved to be present at the toilet of the little ones.
And then we come to 1885 when he has a child of his own and is about to live in its presence. He was in the very midst of his artistic crisis, -- that most serious period of aridity, -- when his little Pierre brought him suddenly back to the round, warm reality of his chubby thighs, -- to reality of his voracious appetite and authoritative instinct. So the father painted the poem of suckling, he installed the mother and child in the heart of the country and took such a delight in this new theme of fecundity that he returned to it every year, - and towards the end of his life he was to make it the subject of one of his most magnificent pieces of sculpture. It would seem as though, amidst his formal, almost intellectual preoccupations, the birth of his son recalled to him the existence of the art of Millet, comprehensive of the phenomena of nature and noble human humility.
Renoir was to follow most attentively the greedy and voluntary movements of his child; again he marvelled in the little fellow's presence. Nor did he tire of this when Jean was born in 1894. The marvel to him was perpetual. But when Claude was born in 1901 his hymn to childhood burst forth in all its fulness. Renoir did not amuse himself with a child; he did not regard it as a plaything, or a distraction; he took it seriously. He always took everything seriously, and that is doubtless why he loved everything, was never disappointed over anything, and was able to discover joy.
He looked on whilst « Coco » wrote, painted, drew, built houses or castles with bricks or cards, and read. He observed the man in the making, - he followed his metamorphosis. It was a grave matter this growing up of a little boy, in whom the mystery of life - as he learnt what life meant - was developing.
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