Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (France, 1841–1919)
Les Roses, 1878
Oil on canvas
16 3/8 x 13 ¼ in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
At the age of 13, Pierre-Auguste Renoir began working as a porcelain painter to help support his family. He demonstrated natural talent for painting the floral still lifes and ornamental patterns that decorated the porcelain wares, and he developed his talents further by copying Old Masters paintings at the Louvre. In 1862, he attended classes at the École des Beaux-Arts and also studied independently with Charles Gleyre. He met aspiring artists and future Impressionists Jean-Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet, and Alfred Sisley during this time. They shared a mutual interest in painting modern life, contrary to the academic penchant for history and mythology, and favored an interpretation of nature that emphasized movement and changes in light and atmosphere. To capture these changes, Renoir and his colleagues used a wet-on-wet technique, painting layer over layer before the medium dried and often mixing colors directly on the canvas.
Renoir used this approach in Les Roses, evident in the fluid application of paint on the blooms, tablecloth, and varied colored background. He mixed the paint generously with turpentine to give the paint the desired viscosity and worked energetically, emphasizing the seeming spontaneity of his brushwork. His subject matter harkens back to his early days as a porcelain painter, though most academic painters regarded still lifes as merely decorative and lacking in intellectual merit. Given the uncertainty of his early career, Renoir painted still lifes intermittently after the 1870s and turned his attention to the figure. He achieved success after several paintings were accepted to the 1879 Salon and exhibited rarely with his fellow Impressionists, fearful of tarnishing his recent success.
Renoir became a favorite of Clara Weitzenhoffer, and she purchased three additional paintings for her permanent collection. She considered Les Roses the finest painting in her entire collection.