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The Religious Affiliation of Painter
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir is regarded as one of the greatest artists in modern history. He was a life-long Catholic.

From: Lawrence Hanson, Renoir: The Man, The Painter, and His World, Dodd, Mead & Company: New York (1968), page 280:

In 1908 in a new edition of [a book about the artist] Cennini, Renoir agreed to write a preface. He wrote:

"...But to understand the general value of the art of the past it is necessary to recall that beyond the teachings of their master the painters had something else, something which has disappeared from modern life, something which filled the soul of the contemopraries of Cennini--a religious faith, the most fecund source of their inspiration. It is this which gives thir work the character of nobility and artlessness which we now find so charming. In short, there then existed between men and the craft they practiced a harmony which came from a common belief."

Renoir was not a man who spoke much about himself at any time of his life. His few comments on religion show his usual dispositino to live and let live. If the sermon preached by the Cure of Cagnes at his funeral has any meaning beyond the conventional panegyric to the famous dead it means that Renoir was a believer. Certainly he lived the second half of his life in the spirit of one; his wish was to spread joy through his painting.

According to family tradition (the salient points of which have been verified by public documents) Pierre-Auguste Renoir's last name was assigned to his grandfather, who was found abandoned as an infant. The Renoir name in his family thus dates no more than 2 generations prior to the famous painter. Pierre-Auguste Renoir's grandfather Francois was baptized by a Catholic priest named Abbe Lenoir on 8 January 1773 in Limoges, France, where the baby had been found abandoned. At the time, Francois was not given a surname, because no parents could be found. Later, when he was married, he obtained a surname. This is a story that the painter Renoir enjoyed re-telling, as he found it quite amusing. The civil magistrate who performed the marriage of Francois was also named Lenoir, and one theory holds that this name, altered by one letter, is the origin of the name "Renoir." (Source: Hanson, pages 1-2)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir attended a local Catholic church school he was growing up (Hanson, page 5).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir sang in a Catholic church choir when he was young. The choir was led by Charles Gounod, who had already made a name for himself as a composer of religious music. Gounod was very impressed with Renoir's voice, and felt that the boy had a promising future as a singer. Gounod offered Renoir free vocal lessons. Charles Gounod was in the process of shifting his compositional interests to opera, and in fact he later became famous as the the composer of the opera Faust. Gounod put the young Renoir in the chorus of the new opera he was directing. (Source: Hanson, pages 7-8)

About Renoir's philosophy, from: Hanson, page 157:

Essentially he was becoming not merely the chronicler of Parisian types but of their life, the night life especially. He was not interested in their work but fascinated by them at play. He loved happiness as much as he loved women and inclined toward it instinctively. He saw no point in the kind of realism Zola preached and wrote about; he saw that as ugliness and the man who thrust it on the public notice as a sadist. He knew that his portrayal of them happily dancing was not less true and infinitely more pleasant. He concentrated on the pleasant, and his pictures ring true because, for all the often monstrous overwork and underpayment of that time, the young people were truly gay and lighthearted.

He gave us Paris of the eighteen-seventies, and Paris then was in many ways a very happy city. It had not reached the point at which moralists would condemn this happiness as shallow, pagan, antisocial, escapist. In those days everything was simpler, the minds of the public most of all. The French have always been realists. They wer realists then. To be realistic, they thought, was to earn one's living then forget about it as quickly as possible; if they wer paid little, drinks, food, dances, theatres, circues cost little too. They were expected to put a happy face forward, and as it was in their own interest to do so, and as it is nicer to smile than to frown and just as easy, they concentrated on the smile.

This was Renoir's philosopher precisely, and given his love of women and attachment to his class, it is not surprising that he became the foremost example of the painter who demonstrated that the common people at lpay could be beautiful as well as heartening. In these summer months of 1876 he was hard at work creating his first painting in this genre. His aim was to make a study of Le Moulin de la Galette as it was at the height of a summer evening, packed with dancers.

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Webpage created 3 December 2005. Last modified 4 December 2005.
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