Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Figure 1.--Renoir had three boys. This painting shows Pierre 11 and Jean 2 and an unidentified child in 1896.

The French impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir is one of the most prominent artists of our era. He is perhaps the best loved of all the impressionists, in part due to his vibrant colors and subjects such as flowers and young children. Renoir was one of the early impresionists, although he later brorke with them an adopted amore formalized style. Renoir has a unique place among the artists surveyed by HBC. His family was the center of his life. He enjoyed and was intreagued by his children. He painted them numerous times. He used them so often that they got a bit tiredof that, especially when a klittle older and someytimes had to be bribed. Imagine to have to be bribed to be painted by Renoir. Sometimes in their normal clothes which are of particular interest to HBC. Other times he outfitted them in costumes. Sometimes because he had no little girls he even outfitted them in dresses. As one of the great impressionists, he has left us some wonderful, if idealized views of French childhood at the turn of the century.


Renoir's father, L'eonard Renoir, was a tailor. He married Marguerite Merlet.


Pierre was born to a humble family in Limoges (1841). He was the youngest of six children When Pierre was only about 4 years old in 1845, his father moved the family to Paris. He essentially grew up in his father's tailor shop. His mother taught him to draw. And as a boy he loved to draw. Paper was not readily availavke, so he drew everywhere. He drew on the walls, all over the shop, and evem on the clothes that hung around the shop. His parents seem to have been remarkably tolerant. His humble beginning also left him eager to successfully enter the French middle class. Some art historians suggest his constant rendering of his family and children was, perhaps not consciously, to demonstrate his affluent, middle-class life style. His humble beginnings also meant tht unlike some of the other impressionists, he did not have a family which could support him as a young aspiring artist.

Boyhood Clothing

I'm not sure how Renoir dressed as a boy. Growing up in a home where his father made clothes would have given the boy a unique knowlefge of clothing unlike other future artists.



Boy's of Renoir's class and family background could not pursue their education beyond primary school. They had to work. Their parents would apprentice them so they could learn a trade. Given his interests and drawing ability, they found a suitable opportunity for their son. Renoir was apprenticed at the age of 13 to work as a painter in a Paris workshop (1854). He was taught to decoirate china plates, cups, and vases. As a young apprentice he would have begun with flowers. The decorations imitated the great Rococo painters of the 18th century. It was in the shop factory that he gained experience with the light, fresh colors that were to distinguish his Impressionist work. It was at the factory that he learned the importance of good craftsmanship. He did well and was recognized by the owner. Unlike many apretices he began making good money, al least for a teenager with his background. He at first enjoyed the job as he loved to pint. He was eventually promoted to paint portraits of notable people on the factory china. While still an apprentice, Pierre visite the Louvre where he carefully studied the paintings of the old masters. He was admitted as an authorized copier (1860). He used his skills to make a little money by copying 18th century paintings.

Art Training

Renoir while still an apprentice began attending evening classes. Renoir at age 20 years decided to quit his job at the china workshop. He wanted to attend art school to develop his skills. He managed to joined the studio of Charles Gleyre, a respected artist. There Gleyre taught his students to paint and draw. They followed the styles and techniques of famous artists. This was the practiced followed by art schools all over Europe. And this was what the Salon looked for when it assessed the work of artists. The Paris Salon was the most significant official French government art show of the time. Renoir entered the Ecole Imperial et Speciale des Beaux-Arts (1862).

Birth of Impressionism

While studying with Gleyre, Renoir met Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frederic Bazille. They became friends and of coure tirelessly discussed art. They soon tired of the standard style of painting. They found this restriutive, even repressive. They wanted to experiment with ideas of their own and to sattempt new ways of capturing images. By the 1860s, photography had become well established. This must have affected their thinking. Ahotograph could capture realistic images. Artists were no longer needed to do this. Monet invited his new friends to join him in the near-by forest of Fontainebleau to paint pictures of nature outdoors. At the time artists painted indoors. Renoir was intrigued by the then novel idea and accepted the invitation, At the time, the accepted practice was to sketch scenes outdoors. There one might find new ideas. They would then retire to their studios to do the actual painting.

Figure 2.--Renoir painted his son Jean when the boy was about 5 or 6 years old in 1900.

Body of Work

His predilection towards light-hearted themes was influenced by the great Rococo masters, whose works he studied in the Louvre. In 1862 he entered the studio of Gleyre and there formed a lasting friendship with Monet, Sisley, and Bazille. He painted with them in the Barbizon district and became a leading member of the group of Impressionists who met at the Cafe Guerbois. He took part in their first exhibition, in the former studio of the photographer Nadar. (See photographs on the de Lessps page. Nadar had his famous studio at 35 boulevard des Capucines, Paris. The exhibition was on April 15, 1874. There Renoir and like minded artists, rejected by the juries of the Salon, offered their work for public view. Although some critics at the time appreciated the new style, most subjected Renoir and the other artists in the group to ridicule, calling their work impressionistic rather than realistic. Reniors first serious paintings were classic typically impressionist vinettes of everyday life, full of color and light. Renoir's work gradually evolved away from the impressionists He broken with the impressionist movement in the 1880s. His works began to show a more disciplined technique to portraits and figure paintings The work of the Renoir and the other "Impressionists" would eventually lead to what is now recognized as Modern Art. Renoir as most of the impressionists eventuallty did exhibit at the Salon. His works appeared in 1879, 1881, 1883, and 1890. Renoir is best know for his charming portraits of every day life. Renoir is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, for his subjects---pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women---have instant appeal, and he communicated the joy he took in them with great directness. `Why shouldn't art be pretty?', he said, `There are enough unpleasant things in the world.'

Figure 3.--This painting of Jean at age 7 in 1901 was one of the family's favorites and hung in their home for years--much to Jean's embarrassment as he grew up.

Renoir's Family

Renoir's family is important not only for personal reasons, but because they ineviavly affect an artist's outlook, mood, and hapiness. And also Renoir used them in many of his paintings. His wide Aline was his favorite female model and famously appears in ""Lucheon of the Boating Party". Their first son Pierre was not a focus of Renoir's work. His middle son Jean appears in quite a number of his paintings. And his nephew Edmond was also another important model. It is not always clear, however, who the models were in his portraits. Renoir more than any other impressionist artist focused on his children and other child models. Monet used his children for models, but they were usually adornments in garden or landscape scenes. Renoir on the other hand painted large numbers of paintings of these children as central figures.

Identifying the Children

A well-informed reader tells me that the three children in the painting above are not all Renoirs (figure 1). The oldest boy in the picture is Pierre (b. 1885). The baby is Jean (b. 1894), who also appears by himself in the other painting. Renoir's third son Claude (b. 1901) had not yet been born so he couldn't be in this painting. The pose of the other child would lead him to suspect that it is a girl. The fact the child has a ball, however, suggests that the child is a boy. Renoir's children also didn't, as a rule, wear dresses, but did wear long hair with ribbons. Another character in this drama is Renoir's nephew Edouard. A child looking like a young girl in the "Apple Seller" is actually Edouard. (View the "Apple Seller" on the park outing page.) There are several pictures of Edouard in a book by Daulte (Johns Hopkins University Library) with waist length hair and wearing a dress with long stockings.

Other Children

Renoir painted many works using his boys as the subject. They were often painted with long hair and smocks so only art historians know their identity. Renoir's impresionist style make it difficult, but not entirely imposible to identify to identify them from facial features. He also painted other children. He painted Jean and Genevieve Caillebotte, the son and daughter of Martial Caillebotte in 1893. We also notice the Charpentier children. Renoir also used his nephew Eugène in some of his paintings. We know one girl he painted as a commision, 9-year-old named Marie Goujon in 1885--the "Girl with a hoop". It is a particularly beautiful Reboir image. When he painted with his friend Monet, he sometimes inclued Mobet's son Jean in the image, but only as a minor figure. We have been unable to identify some of the children he painted. Here hopefully our readers will be able to help us here.

Figure 5.--Jean was a model for this painting. He was age 6-7. Notice his long hair is uncurled in the French style. He wears a sailor suit with knickers. He is in the park playing with his hoop.

Notable Paintings

Jean and hoop

Another Renoir painting shows his 7 year old son Jean holding a hoop, wearing a smock-like dress with lace collar and cuffs, and long curled hair tied with a white ribbon (figure 3). Jean remarked in his autobiography that in this picture, which he posed as a little girl, was displayed prominently in their home for many year and caused him much embarrassment.

The Apple Sellers

One of the most beautiful Renoir paintings is "The Apple Sellers". You can view the painting on the park outing page, as it shows how middle class French children were dressed for an outing to the park in 1890. The painting is of Aline (Mrs. Renoir), Renoir's nephew Eduard (who is 6 years old born 1884), and his son Pierre (who is 5 years born in 1885), and an unidentified French peasant woman who is pictured selling apples to a middle class family. At the time of the painting, Renoir was still establishing his reputation and working himself into the middle class. Some of his critics charge that the painting is meant to emphasize his recent success. This painting shows the latitude mothers exercised in clothing French boys at the time. The older boy, Eduard is dressed in typical little boy fashions of the day in a red dress, long stockings (probable silk), matching red strap shoes. His uncurled hair is nearly waist length and tied with a matching hair ribbon. In contrast the younger boy, Pierre, appears to be wearing a smock, shorts, dark socks, plain shoes, shoulder-length long curly hair, and a straw hat with a ribbon band. These outfits show some differences between French and Anglo-American clothing styles and child rearing patterns. The differences are discussed on the park outings page.

The differences in dress between these two boys obviously reflects their mother's preference, but also may be related to their own personalities. Pierre was an active boy, whereas, Edmond was a quiet thoughtful child who liked to read, etc. Jean described Eduard later as a young man:

Eduard would read aloud to Helene (his future wife). He was just discovering the pleasures of study, which were to become the great passion of his life. He had passed his examinations with the highest honors and had thought of becoming a monk. He was never to cease studying, and now yet goes on steeping himself in the beauties of the world's great literature, going without difficulty from Arabic to Russian, from Italian to Scandinavian, and learning in the process many disparate languages. Edmond and Helene were the intellectuals of our little group.
High praise from a future movie director.


Sometimes Renoir dressed the children as "pierrots", a kind of French clown. (A typical male character in French pantomime with a whitened face and wearing a loose white fancy costume.) Renoir liked painting clowns, perhaps in part because he could frrly use color. One of the most famous of these clown paintings was of Claude painted in 1909.

Sailor Boy

Renoir's painted "Sailor Boy", a portrait of Robert Nunes. We do not yet have detailson the portrait. I donot yet have information on just who he was. It is a wonderful image of a French boy wearing a kneepants sailor suit. It is easily identifiable as a French image because of the red pom on the boy's cap.

Figure 6.--Renoir's youngest boy Claude is pictured here in 1906? Note the curls and hairbow in an otherwise boyish looking sailor suit.


Renoir is perhaps the best loved of all the impressionists, in part due to his vibrant colors and subjects such as flowers and young children as well of course beautiful women. He loved to paint young girls and children and his sons made pretty and convenient models. The boys were dressed in dresses when they were little and often smocks when they were a bit older. Often it is difficult to identify the gender of the children he painted without knowing just who was being painted. Renoir's sons all had long hair as boys. After their long hair was cut, he never painted them as older boys.

Painting Incident: Monet's Garden (1874)

Several of the impressionists were good friends. They would have a little friendly competition paining the same scene to see how they variously hanfeled the image and lighting. The results are classic images in art history and technique. One example was three renderings of Monet's wife Camille and son Jeanat Argenteuil. Manet and Monet painted sinilar scenes. Renoir painted it differently and created one of the most beloved of all impressionist works. A HBC reader has provided us some details of this session.


Renoir provides us a wonderful complete view of how prosperous French children were dressed at the turn of the century, primary through portraits of Jean. Jean when he was very young wore bonnets and dresses. A few years later he commnly wears smocks. The smocks Jean wears are very colorful. I am not sure if they were painted in these brights reds for artistic affect or if Jean really did wear bright red smocks. Jean also wore Fauntleroy suits and all of Renoirs children appear to have worn sailor suits. Pierre looks to have worn sailor suits into his eraly teens. Renoir also shows us views of hair styles. Jean's hair was worn long, but not curled. In many portraits he also wire hair bows.


Nadar, Nigel Gosling, Alfred A Knope, New York, 1976.
Renoir, Harry M. Abrams, Inc, Publishers, New York, 1985.
Renoir, Elizabeth Elias Kaufman, Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc, USA, 1980.


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Created: July 5, 1998
Spell checked: August 6, 1999
Last updated: 9:53 AM 5/16/2010