By the start of 1876, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) had, with Monet, Sisley and others, laid down the fundamentals of Impressionist style, and his paintings were starting to attract collectors. But most important of all, his portraiture commissions were beginning to pay the bills.
In the Spring of 1876, Renoir again exhibited with his colleagues at the Second Impressionist Exhibition, with seventeen oil paintings and a pastel. These were predominantly figures and portraits.
Renoir had been close to Alfred Sisley, seen in his portrait of 1876, and the two had often painted en plein air side by side. This painting was exhibited at the Third Impressionist Exhibition.
During the late Spring of 1876, Renoir made various studies and sketches near his new rented house and studio in Montmartre. He then worked them up during May into one of his – and Impressionism’s – masterpieces, Bal du moulin de la Galette (Dance at the Moulin de la Galette) (1876). This was exhibited at the Third Impressionist Exhibition too, and has become one of the canonical European paintings of the late nineteenth century.
There are two versions of this painting: this larger canvas is thought to have been painted in Renoir’s studio from a smaller sketch which he made in front of the motif. The latter painting is now sadly in a private collection.
In September, Renoir went to paint the portrait of the wife of Alphonse Daudet, an author, at his house in Champrosay, to the south-east of Paris. While he was there, he painted Banks of the Seine at Champrosay (1876) en plein air. This shows the artist’s methodical brushwork at the height of his Impressionist landscape style, and was exhibited at the Third Impressionist Exhibition.
Considerable speculation surrounds the use of black paint by the Impressionists. Although often quoted as banning the colour from their palettes, Renoir wasn’t afraid to use it even during the height of the movement. Sure enough, ivory/bone black has been identified in At the Theatre (La Première Sortie) of 1876-7, in passages such as the rail at the lower left.
The Spring of 1877 brought the Third Impressionist Exhibition, at which Renoir exhibited twenty-one paintings.
In the Café from about 1877 appears to be an oil sketch of a café scene in the Montmartre district. Surprisingly, it was accepted for the Salon of 1878, his first work to be exhibited there for eight years.
Another oil sketch, Chez la modiste (1878) shows a couple of young and fashionable women at the milliner’s, a theme which Degas also found particularly paintable.
In the autumn of 1876, Renoir was commissioned by Georges Charpentier to decorate his Paris apartment, and to paint his wife and children in portraits which were exhibited at the Third Impressionist Exhibition. Following those, Renoir made one of his finest family portraits, of Mme. Charpentier and Her Children (1878). This shows mother, Marguérite-Louise Lemonnier (1848–1904), daughter, Georgette-Berthe (1872–1945), and son, Paul-Émile-Charles (1875–1895), and was exhibited at the Salon in 1879, where it was praised highly.
In the summer of 1879, Renoir campaigned in the country for a change, along the River Seine near Bougival and Chatou.
Renoir’s The Boating Party at Chatou (1879, or possibly 1880-81) captures both social rowing in the foreground, and two sports rowers further out in the River Seine. The latter are most probably in single sculls, just as shown by the American Thomas Eakins in 1871. Although Renoir is likely to have seen at least one of Caillebotte’s paintings of boating on the Yerres, neither are likely to have been aware of Eakins’ paintings.
Later in that summer, Renoir visited the Normandy coast, where he painted on his host’s estate at Wargemont, and on the Channel coast at Berneval, where he painted this small family group of Mussel-Fishers at Berneval, Normandy Coast (1879). This was exhibited at the Salon the following year, and later purchased from the artist by Durand-Ruel.
Both Edgar Degas and Renoir painted the Cirque Fernando in Paris, the latter in his Acrobats at the Cirque Fernando, from 1879, which shows the sisters Francisca and Angelina Wartenberg in the ring during a performance.
By the Water from about 1880 is believed to have been painted on the terrace of the Restaurant Fournaise on the Île de Chatou, which he was soon to use for his major work Luncheon of the Boating Party (see below). If that’s the case, then what appears to be a lake in the background is actually the River Seine.
Although it may have been painted up to three years earlier, Renoir’s In the Woods from about 1880 is one of the most radical landscapes prior to Neo-Impressionism, which it closely resembles. Here all is light and colour, and form has dissolved into a myriad of small touches of paint.
View of the Coast near Wargemont in Normandy was painted while Renoir was staying at his patron’s villa in Normandy again during the summer of 1880. He took time out from portraiture and decorative painting for his employer to sneak off and paint local landscapes in front of the motif, including this clifftop farmhouse.
During the summer of 1880, Renoir started work on another of his masterpieces, which he didn’t complete until the following year: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-81), another complex group of figures.
This was set on the Île de Chatou at the Restaurant Fournaise, and funded by commissioned portraits over the period. Among his models are his partner and later wife Aline Charigot (left foreground, with affenpinscher dog), the actress Jeanne Samary (upper right), and fellow artist Gustave Caillebotte (seated, lower right). This work was exhibited at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882, where it was praised by several critics.