The Umbrellas, c.1881-6, oil on canvas. (Courtesy National Gallery London, NG3268).
It’s Renoir’s 180th birthday tomorrow (but I have another on this day post to share too!) so here is an early post on him and my favourite of his paintings, The Umbrellas… (all those shades of blue are so wonderful!)
Renoir was first apprenticed as a porcelain painter, but from 1860 was copying paintings in the Louvre, and by the following year, attending the studio of Charles Gleyre. He exhibited at the Paris Salon for several years in the 1860s, mainly with portraits.
By the early 1870s, with repeated rejections from the Salon, he joined the first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874 (read more about the exhibitions here). He was already very friendly with members of the Impressionist circle and had a great interest in painting en plein air, and had adopted a lighter colour palette in his art. He did, however, break with his Impressionist colleagues to exhibit at the Salon again from 1878.
Renoir spent much of the early 1880s travelling. He went to Italy, North Africa, London, Jersey and Guernsey, and took a trip around parts of the Mediterranean coast with Monet. Following this, he adopted a much more classical and defined style, moving away from sketchy brushstrokes.
I really love The Umbrellas, in the National Gallery in London, because you can see this change. Painted between 1881 and 1886, there was a four-year gap in between him doing the right and the left sides of the painting. On the right, with the little girl in the hat, you can see it’s a lot sketchier and less in focus; whereas on the left, with the woman carrying the basket the faces are much more clearly defined.
I have to admit I am probably a bigger fan of the right side – but it’s really interesting to see the evolution in his painting style all on one canvas!
Read more about Renoir the man and controversy over his art and artistic reputation at Art UK here.