19th Century European Art - Renoir's Washerwomen

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19th Century European Art
Renoir’s Washerwomen (c 1888): A Review

Located between two major styles of his art, Renoir’s Washerwomen (c 1888), displays the use of bright colors and a technique un-characteristic of his previous style. Living from 1841 to 1919, Pierre-Auguste Renoir would become known as one of the most prominent members of the French Impressionist painters. His paintings celebrated the beauty that could be found both within women and nature. He dedicated about fifteen years of his life and seventeen pieces of work to the Impressionist movement by the time he decided to make a change. Renoir is known to have experimented with “dappling light effects and broken brush strokes”[1]. Impressionism was an art form that was an attempt to record a visual reality through momentary effects of light and color. In the early 1880s, Renoir had begun to become dissatisfied with Impressionism because all of his works started to look too similar, so he decided to shift his focut for a few months and decided to visit Italy. He became fascinated by Renaissance art and became influence by works of the Old Masters, such as Raphael and Ingres. By the late 1880s, Renoir started to fall away from the form and distinct shape of the Old Masters and began adding lines and dabs of paint back into his work. After a few years and some successful works, he again shifted his style and maneuvered away from his classical phase and started painting less rigidly and with more dabs of paint resembling minor elements of Impressionism. Maryanne Stevens remarks that this work is Renoir’s early steps towards the softer style he would eventually master[2]. As with many artists, however, their careers deteriorate towards the end of their lives, which is true for this artist. The Painting During Renoir’s Career

Renoir become dissatisfied with the limitations Impressionism put on his style, so he traveled to Italy. He became greatly influenced by Italian art and decided to study ancient Roman and Renaissance art. He wished to learn a new “grandeur and simplicity”[3]. His style became softer and exemplified “vibrant touches contrast with a new emphasis on line and form”[4]. He entirely changed his form of painting and subject matter to a more linear style characteristic of the Old Masters in the mid 1880s. From his visit, Renoir began to skirt away from the “fluttering and irregular edges of his figures of the 1870s”[5] and moved towards firmer and more rigid contours to his subjects. This is extensively noticeable in distinct lines and contours of the figures his work The Bathers (1887). His ‘Ingres’ period only lasted till the late 1880s. By the time he painted the Washerwomen in 1888, Renoir was “breaking away from the clearly outlined figures …because his [washerwomen] figures are thoroughly woven into their surroundings by their common streaky brush work and palette.”[6] Painted earlier the same year as Washerwomen, Renoir painted Little girl carrying flowers. This was the first real painting after The Bathers which reveals the artist’s shift in style away from the unbending lines of his Ingres period. Maryanne Stevens calls these paintings, especially Washerwomen, a “chalky, dry, tautly handled picture”[7] and goes on to note that the “heavily worked surface implies considerable difficulty in coping with a very felicitous composition.”[8] Renoir felt Parisian models to be expensive, so to change his scenery and his subject matter, he went to Champagne to paint peasant women.[9] Reoccurring Themes

Renoir and his Washerwomen have been linked to many different artists and some of their work because of subject matter and elements that they share. Critics have connected Renoir with Gauguin and his Vision after the Sermon (1888). Renoir is said to have painted Washerwomen the same year at Gauguin completed his famous Post-Impressionist painting. The two works would both be labeled ‘decorative’ by critics because of their...
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