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The Gust of Wind
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
The Gust of Wind, about 1872
Oil on canvas, 20 1/2" x 32 1/2"
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (2403)
The genre of landscape painting in the western art tradition gained wider acceptance and popularity through the 18th and 19th centuries. During this time, artists transformed the landscape from its use as a background or setting for paintings depicting historic, mythological or religious events into a subject independent of narrative. This is what essentially defines the genre of landscape painting: it is a picture showing a natural outdoor scene, without an emphasis on narrative content.

Renoir explored landscape painting throughout his career. Early on he was influenced by painters from the Barbizon school, a group of French artists who advocated naturalistic representation through direct study from nature. Many of the Barbizon artists painted pure landscapes, natural landscapes that show little or no evidence of human activity. Renoir followed this example by working outdoors, creating both studies as well as completed paintings in plein-air. The French term plein-air (literally meaning "open air") describes the practice of painting outdoors for the purpose of capturing effects of light and atmosphere. The popularity of this type of painting increased through the nineteenth century as painting materials became more lightweight and portable and thereby making it easier for artists to paint on site. Plein-air painting is often characterized by unconcealed brushstrokes, rough surface texture and loosely defined forms. Many of these features are a result of the need to work rather quickly in outdoor environments, though Renoir also utilizes them as a way of rendering atmospheric conditions.

The Seine at Champrosay
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
The Seine at Champrosay, 1876
Oil on canvas, 21 5/8" x 26"
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Caillebotte Bequest 1894 (RF 2737)
Rapid brushstrokes are evident all over the canvas of The Gust of Wind. The rough, unblended brushstrokes create a sketchy image of the landscape that is contradicted by the vividness in the way Renoir captures the light and windy atmosphere of the day. In this way, the brushstrokes are not so much used for the purpose of rendering details as to define the sense of movement caused by the gusting wind. This plein-air landscape was probably painted by Renoir in a single session.

A few years later, Renoir painted The Seine at Champrosay, in the countryside town south-east of Paris. Though Renoir’s primary reason for being in Champrosay at this time was to paint a commissioned portrait, this painting shows that the scenery of the countryside also captured his attention. The use of bold, unblended color and quick brushstrokes are hallmarks of the Impressionist landscape style. This landscape was one of several paintings Renoir exhibited in the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877.

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