Pierre Auguste Renoir
French, 1841-1919
Port de La Rochelle
Oil on canvas
8.1 x 12.7 ins/ 20.7 x 32.3 cms

The Old Port of La Rochelle, present day:

It is likely that Renoir stood nearer the tower on this side to paint Port de La Rochelle, 1896.

It is a testament to the great quality of this work that it remained in the family when, after the death of the artist, the painting was passed on to his second son, Jean Renoir, who himself was famous for his work as a director and for his profound influence on French cinema between 1930 and 1950. Renoir’s smaller works tend to be unfinished and sketchier but this painting is more of a finished piece with warmer colours and looser brushwork, techniques he adopted in the 1890s.

Of all the Impressionist artists, Renoir demonstrated sensitivity beyond the loose brushwork of his contemporaries. His works play with very vibrant light and intimate subjects. He often painted contemporary Parisian life but his most touching renditions include portraits and studies of the female nude.

Though born in Limoges, Pierre-Auguste Renoir was raised in Paris. He seems to have had inkling to the more sensitive sides of life; he soon started working as an apprentice to a porcelain factory and decorating fans. Renoir’s great influences early in his career were French 18th Century Rococo artists including Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, whose works hung in the Louvre and have often been translated for porcelain, furniture, and other decorative items.

Although he started drawing mainly for the decorative arts, in 1862, Renoir decided to take painting more seriously: he entered the Atelier Gleyre, where he met important contemporaries such as Monet, Sisley and Bazille.

In the 1860s Renoir struggled to get into the Salon, and he struggled both financially and emotionally. In 1869, the Salon accepted his painting ‘Lise.’ Renoir continued his studies under some of the greatest masters of the 19th century in Paris: Courbet, Manet, Corot, and Delacroix. One could almost say that Renoir and his friend Claude Monet were at the centre of the movement after 1869. They painted together at a popular bathing spot on the Seine called La Grenouillère. The water, movement, light and energy inspired the two artists to become obsessed with the immediacy of light and shadow in their immediate surroundings. Indeed, they were capturing ‘impressions’ of contemporary Parisian life. The paintings from La Genouillère show two perspectives of the same epiphany and are a unique glance into the roots of what would become “Impressionism” in the following decades. Indeed, at the time, the styles of the Renoir and Monet were virtually identical save their sitting in different spots.

By 1874, Renoir, Pissarro, Monet, Cézanne, Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Degas, and other artists registered themselves as a joint stock company and decided to exhibit independently of the Salon on the boulevard des Capucines. Missing was Manet, who preferred to keep showing at the Salon.

These exhibitions received widespread critique, but several commissions arose from people who believed in the young artists’ inventions. Renoir completed various commissioned portraits during this time, full of soft light, a testament to a radiant happiness in life. One aspect of colour that fascinated the Impressionists, and especially Renoir, was the influence of one shade upon another - especially the skin tones rendered by this artist show tinges of greens, blues, greys, or reds depending on the surrounding environment.

Renoir then visited Italy where the structured and rational art of Raphael inspired him, and his subsequent paintings reverted back to a tight, classical style which was considered his least successful. By the last decade of the 19th century, Renoir had returned to form; he infused sensuality, passion and joy into his works. Unfortunately, Renoir’s maturity was marred by ill health. He broke his right arm in 1897, this brought on arthritis which began to seriously affect him and restrict his painting. Furthermore, his eyesight worsened as he had partial atrophy of the nerve in his left eye, rheumatism caused him great pain. By 1910, he was in a wheelchair and his grossly deformed hands had to be bound with bandages to retrieve the chafing from attempting to hold a paintbrush.

To relieve himself from the pain he moved to a mild, dry climate in Cagnes, situated in the south of France. He built a house and studio by an olive grove at Les Collettes in 1907 and by 1908 his family moved there. He spent winters in Cagnes, and summers in Essoyes, with intermittent trips to Paris, to keep in touch with friends, exhibitions and museums.

This involvement with the Parisian art scene can be evidenced as artists like Rodin and Matisse visited him at his home in Cagnes. In 1913 the renowned dealer Ambroise Vollard suggested the painter attempt the art of sculpture, with the help of Guino, a pupil of Maillol’s. Though these sculptures were successful, in 1910 Renoir had written to his protégé Albert André that “painting is a happy occupation since it is capable of maintaining our illusions and bringing us joy.” In great pain, Renoir still completed a large scale composition entitled “Rest after a Bath” and a still life of apples in the last year of his life. 

Signed ‘Renoir’ lower left


Estate of the artist;
Jean Renoir, Paris (son of the artist; by descent from the above);
Dido Freire Renoir, Beverly Hills (wife of Jean Renoir; by descent from the above);
Private Collection, Buenos Aires;
Private Collection, Dallas, TX;
Guarisco Gallery, Washington, D.C.;
Private Collection, United Kingdom;
Private Collection, Hong Kong 


Bernheim-Jeune (ed.), L'Atelier de Renoir, Paris, 1931, vol. I, no. 162, illustrated pl. 53;

Guy Patrice & Michel Dauberville, Renoir, Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, 1895-1902, Paris, 2010, vol. III, no. 1906, illustrated p. 128

This work is to be included in the Renoir Catalogue critique being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute from the François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein archives.

In Le Port de La Rochelle Renoir has captured the transience and the tranquillity of a bright summer’s day at the port in La Rochelle. Using his signature bold complementary colours of yellow, orange and red the artist has recreated both the movement of the boats as they pass through the port gates and the light of the sun as it reflects and refracts against the buildings and the sails. A lone figure in the foreground, likely a sailor, looks onto the water in a state of contemplation, adding to the tranquillity of the scene.

The port is that of La Rochelle, a historic maritime city in Western France, on the Atlantic Ocean. Steeped in history, the port of La Rochelle has long been an inspiration for French artists with works depicting the area by such artists as Paul Signac, Jean-Baptiste Corot and Claude Vernet, among others. Paul Signac was so enraptured by the towers that he produced two paintings of the port, Le port de la Rochelle and Entrée du port de la Rochelle, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy and the Musée D’Orsay respectively, while Corot’s depiction is in the Musée du Nouveau Monde in La Rochelle.

Renoir has depicted the port of La Rochelle from the corner end by the Tour Saint-Nicolas with the Tour de la Chaîne directly behind. The Tour de la Lanterne’s spire can be seen in the distance, glinting blue in the sunlight. These towers are the city’s point of entry and act as lines of defence- any boat coming in or out would pass through them. A present-day photograph of what is now the old town port shows that the area remains relatively the same despite industrialisation. 

Inventory Number: Art P93
1800-1899 City Scene Marine Period 1800-1899 Impressionist/Post Impressionist

See Artist Bio below.

Pierre Auguste Renoir
French, 1841-1919

Renoir was born on February 25, 1841, in the small manufacturing town of Limoges. His family moved to Paris when he was four years old. Gounod advised him to become a musician, but Renoir felt more compulsion toward the graphic arts. At thirteen he joined a ceramic establishment where he painted flowers on porcelain. Later he supported himself by decorating fans. In 1861 he joined the Gleyre atelier where Sisley, Monet and Bazille were also studying. None of them was very happy there, but Renoir especially was out of sympathy with the academic atmosphere of the place. When the master accused him of seeking amusement from painting, he replied that of course he did, or he would otherwise abandon the pursuit. After a year he began to work without a teacher, adapting Courbet's trick of using a palette knife, and painting with purer and lighter colors.

He first exhibited in 1868; he also participated in the famous Nadar exhibition of Impressionists in 1874. He was dependent on portraiture for his living until the auctions of his works in 1875 and 1877 which brought him some independence and enabled him to travel. In 1883 a sort of break occurred in his work. He felt he had gone to the end of Impressionism; he was reaching the conclusion that he did not know how to paint or draw. This bewilderment and discouragement, though exaggerated, had a salutary effect, for Renoir reviewed his methods, again studied the works of old masters whom he loved and went on painting pictures, better than before.

Suffering from failing eyesight in his later years, Renoir began to use stronger colors. His last years were spent in Provence where he continued to paint. He died in Cagnes.

Museums and Exhibitions:

Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Frick Collection, NY; Barnes Foundation, PA; Cleveland Museum of Art, OH; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Musee d’Orsay, Paris; The Louvre, Paris; Musee de l’Orangerie, Paris; National Gallery, London; Tate Gallery, London; British Museum, London; Hermitage Museum, Russia