This Renoir research paper attempts to discuss the work of Pierre Auguste Renoir in terms of its relation to Impressionism and to the artistic culture of Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Renoir was one of the earliest Impressionists to launch himself in another direction. One Renoir term paper has stated that, “The impressionists themselves did not leave impressionist principles unquestioned.” The Renoir term paper noted that Impressionism had two inherent deficiencies: 1] one of its very virtues, spontaneity, ruled out a certain measure of artistic definition, order, and discipline; 2] Impressionism was an art of surface appearances; it did not lend itself to that kind of painting that deals with the mystery, or fantasy, or the meaning of what is depicted. With respect to the second of these deficiencies we can compare Renoir’s Snowy Landscape of 1874 with Van Gogh’s Starry Night painted 1889. These are both great works of art, but Van Gogh’s piece is filled with a raw power that Renoir’s painting lacks. Starry Night derives that power from the fact that it isn’t just a picture, but is also a religious statement about the nature of the universe. Impressionism per se cannot enter the realms that the Expressionists took as the proper subject of art.
I would conclude by saying that Renoir’s leaving of Impressionism behind, and his reasons for doing so, help to explain why it was an essentially transient phenomenon. Artists wanted to do more, say more, than Impressionism allowed them to do or say. Impressionist canvases are lovely to behold, wonderful expressions of the beauties to be found in everyday life. But they are also open to the charge of being somewhat spiritually vapid. Artists tend to be passionate people and Impressionist techniques did not allow for the expression of that passion. Renoir wanted to move beyond it on technical grounds and he did so. Others wanted a more expressive style, a type of painting with an expanded artistic vocabulary. The artistic movements of the twentieth century, e.g. Expressionism, Dada, and Surrealism, provided them with what they needed.