Renoir's Depection of Women in 19th Century Art

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Renoir’s Depiction of Women in 19th Century Art

The societal view of men verses women depicted in artwork during the nineteenth century differs from today’s view on the same subject. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), an impressionist painter in the European Arts, began his career in the early 1860’s. Many of the impressionistic painters of this time focused their paintings on landscapes, flower pieces and still-life works. Renoir’s work was mainly focused on portraits, largely female portraits. Renoir’s chosen subject matter, this being women, was odd and difficult for other artists and art critics to grasp at the time due to the lack of importance and significance women held in societal roles.

Society continued to be male dominated during Renoir’s time in history. The ways Renoir depicted the concept of a woman through portraits and everyday genres, showed how he placed women on a higher physical and primitive level beyond where culture held the rights of women at the time. In Renoir’s painted works of the female nude, the idea of an ideal image of fantasy is shown.

After 1886, Renoir stopped including males as subjects in his paintings. Realizing the overwhelming fact that the century continued to be male dominated, Renoir wanted to show women as his subjects giving them their own sense of individuality. Women of the nineteenth century were viewed as homemakers, not able to perform in society with men. Compared to men, women were seen as being worth almost nothing and were only worthy of bearing children.

Stepping out of the norm once again during his time as a painter, Renoir decided to paint a subject that other impressionist artists rejected at the time stating that the idea was too academic: the female nude. After experimenting with the idea of painting the female nude, Renoir decided to make it his new main theme.

Renoir chose to use models that he knew in real life. Each of the models was shown as their true self which Renoir showed through his personal relationships he had with each individually. There were two main models which reoccurred in Renoir’s paintings; one being his wife and the other being a family member. When the models were not painted in the nude showing their natural beauty, Renoir placed the ladies in feminine clothing which accented their womanly features.

During the Renaissance time period, the positioning of a nude woman had progressed changing the naturalistic view of the female nude to a more erotic feel. The reclined positioning of the female nude copies that of the past images created of Venus. Images of reclining Venus were viewed in a sexual manner and the idea originated from Greek mythology. Renoir justified the positioning of the female nude as “it’s not her person but her spirit that stands in the nude”, this being the reason he continued to paint women in this position and not have any erotic ideas attached with it.

Renoir’s idea behind painting the female nude was not one deliberately created to be erotic in character; they were painted for the sake of art itself, and no other reason. The idea of knowing one of Renoir’s models could have been viewed as an erotic piece would have interfered with the ideals he had set for himself. Showing his models in an erotic fashion would take away from the naturalism which Renoir was trying to achieve. If Renoir truly wanted to show an erotic feel through his paintings, he would have created a conscious attitude seen in his work and he wanted his art to be free of all literary elements.

Not following in the ideas held by other artists, Renoir chose not to show literary works through his paintings. He wanted to paint an image and not have it tell a story, because cinema and television were taking away from the literary ideas of the past shown through paintings. This new found idea of Renoir’s gave him an edge over other artists and helped gain popularity for him. The use of light colors in...
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