Renoir’s Large Nude is one of his many paintings that explore the motif of the female nude and in which he combined a variety of classical influences to shape his composition. In this article, Singulart explores the artist’s life and discusses the Large Nude.
Who was Pierre-Auguste Renoir?
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was a French painter and founder of the Impressionist movement. He is particularly renowned for his explorations of female beauty and sensuality, continuing in the tradition of other artists such as Rubens and Watteau. He was born in Limoges, where his father worked as a tailor before the family moved to Paris in 1844 in search of a more prosperous life.
The Renoir family home was located on Rue d’Argenteuil, in close proximity to the Louvre, thus from a young age, Renoir was exposed to art and discovered a natural talent for drawing. He was also a talented singer, however due to his family’s financial circumstances, he stopped singing lessons to become an apprentice in a porcelain factory, aged thirteen. He was talented at his work, but not passionate and thus he decided to study to enter the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
In 1862, he began studying under Charles Gleyre in Paris, where he met other artists including Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille and Claude Monet. Renoir began exhibiting at the Paris Salon in 1864 and sold his first painting in 1868. He was inspired by the style and subject of some of his modern contemporaries such as Pissarro and Manet and hoped to forge a reputation as a portrait painter. His rise to recognition was perhaps hindered by the instability caused by the Franco-Prussian war. Alongside Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and several other artists, Renoir helped to set up the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and participated with six paintings. Between 1881 and 1882, he traveled extensively, studying many of the artists he admired, from Delacroix in Algeria to Titian in Florence.
In 1890 he married Aline Victorine Charigot, a dressmaker who had modelled for several of his paintings and with whom he already had a son, Pierre Renoir, born in 1885. In 1892, Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis and in 1907 he moved to Cagnes-sur-Mer near the mediterranean coast and continued to paint until his death, despite his movement being severely limited by the arthritis. In 1919, the last year of his life, he visited the Louvre to see his paintings hung alongside the other great masters of the history of art.
In his early works, Renoir incorporated many different influences from Delacroix’s colorism and Camille Corot’s use of light to the realism of Courbet and Manet’s works and Degas’ portrayal of movement. He was also greatly influenced by the plein air painting of Monet and developed this technique extensively in his own works during his Impressionist period. After 1890, his style transitioned again and he moved from Impressionism back to the Realism of his earlier works, influenced by the works of Renaissance masters that he studied during his travels. He also turned his focus from outdoor subject matter to female nudes and domestic scenes. Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a prolific artist and painted several thousands of works during his lifetime.
Renoir’s Large Nude
Renoir painted the female figure and in particular, the female nude repeatedly throughout his career and it is consequently a motif that characterizes his oeuvre. Large Nude is the last in a series of three paintings of the female nude created between 1903 – 1907. Many of Renoir’s female figures were painted under outdoor light in the Impressionist tradition, however Large Nude is painted indoors and demonstrates his late style, which was influenced by many classical references.
In Large Nude, the female figure reclines on a bed, against a background of soft, subtle, pastel patterns. Her figure is gently illuminated, yet she remains demure, with one hand on her leg, one on her head, she gazes downwards as if in thought and does not engage with the viewer. Large Nude was painted in oil on canvas, on the almost life-size scale of 156 x 71cm and bears very little evidence of his early Impressionist style. Here the brushstrokes are more solid and defined, the figure static and the indoor light creates the contrast between the female’s nude figure and the background. As in many of his other works, the background lacks detail, leaving little to distract the viewer’s eye from the central nude figure. Large Nude is more reminiscent of classical nudes such as Ingres’s odalisques than the more controversial, modern Olympia by Manet. Renoir’s treatment of the female nude influenced many artists in the twentieth century, including Matisse and Picasso.