Connect with us – Art History Stories

When Art Hurts: The Story Of The French Painter Auguste Renoir

Pierre Auguste-Renoir, Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876. Public Domain. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Artists' Stories

When Art Hurts: The Story Of The French Painter Auguste Renoir

Today we present the story of the French painter Auguste Renoir and we also wish him a happy birthday! His paintings are renowned for their light, their conspicuous brushstrokes and their pure beauty.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born on this day, in 1841. The vivid coloring of the canvases hides the pain experienced by the artist especially in the final years of his life, which however never stopped his activity.

french painter Auguste Renoir self-portrait

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Self-portrait, 1899, public domain, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown

He began working as a young painter of porcelain and textiles. At age 21, Renoir entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and went on to study under the instructions of painter Charles Gleyre’s, where he met and befriended Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frederic Bazille.

Along with these painters, Renoir is considered one of the most important artists of Impressionism. And even though his paintings had been initially rejected by the Academy and the public, similarly as those of his friends, with time he became one of the most admired artists of his generation. And it remains so to this day.

 pink and blue by french painter Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir,  Pink and Blue, 1881, public domain, Museu de Arte de São Paulo

Auguste Renoir portrayed mainly landscapes and people, using his friends as models. In all his works, it is possible to perceive such great luminosity that it almost plays a role of yet another character in the canvas. Vibrant colors and seemingly insignificant daily moments are a trademark of his work.

The letter by french painter Auguste Renoir

Pierre Auguste-Renoir, The Letter, c.1900, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown

Despite the initial resistance to his work, Renoir was recognized and his art admired. Even the French government even bought one of his works. Things were going well. Unfortunately, in 1899, he was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that causes a lot of pain and inflammation in the joints. In addition, the person affected by it may also have deformities. In the case of the painter his hands were deformed. Consequently, his movements became very restricted and each movement was a big and certainly painful effort.

Pierre Auguste Renoir, The Boat on the Lake, 1901, Southampton City Art Gallery, United Kingdom

Pierre Auguste Renoir, The Boat on the Lake, 1901, Southampton City Art Gallery, United Kingdom

His son, Jean Renoir, recounts in the book Renoir, My Father, the reaction of the people to the painting of the father, after seeing his hands:

“Visitors who were unprepared for this could not take their eyes off his deformity. Though they did not dare to mention it, their reaction would be expressed by some such phrase as “It isn’t possible! With hands like that, how can he paint those pictures? There’s some mystery somewhere.”

He continued painting until his death in 1919. He produced so many works, that is stupefies how possibly he could have painted so much and make anything look so beautiful if even moving his wrists was such a painful task for him. Perhaps we find an answer in his own words, as he once said: “pain passes, but beauty remains”.

Find out more:


Someone who believes, through reading and intuition, that the history of art is the true history of humanity. In love with Renaissance art and a huge fan of the Impressionists.


More in Artists' Stories

To Top