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La Grenouillere
La Grenouillere, 1869
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Oil on Canvas
23 1/4 x 31 1/2 in.
RepositoryPushkin Museum of Fine Arts (Muzey Izobrazitelnykh Iskusstv Imeni A.S. Pushkina),
Moscow, Russia
Les Grands Boulevards and La Grenouillère are two different views of modern life in Paris in the late 1800s. Though both paintings were made outdoors, or in plein-air, each combines elements of nature with human activity in urban and suburban settings. These scenes of bustling boulevards and leisurely enjoyment along the banks of the Seine depict a pleasant and light-hearted view of city life through the lens of bourgeois, or middle class Parisian society.

Renoir lived much of his life in the city and suburbs of Paris. His family moved there from the small town of Limoges when Renoir was four, settling into an apartment located in a working-class neighborhood near the Louvre in the heart of the city. The artist later reminisced, "In the streets of Paris I felt at home." 1

Though Renoir loved Paris very much, he made relatively few paintings of the city. One of the earliest views he painted was at La Grenouillère, a popular place for boating, swimming and relaxing located along the banks of the Seine River in the suburbs of Paris. This painting was made during the summer when Renoir and his friend, Claude Monet, visited La Grenouillère frequently to paint. It is composed using loose brushwork in part because Renoir intended it to be a sketch or study that he would later work into a more refined and fully developed painting – though he never did. Renoir also used this brush technique as he explored ways to represent light and atmospheric effects, particularly noticeable on the surface of the water. Despite the roughness of the brushstrokes, however, one can still see many details such as the elaborate hairstyles of the ladies in their fine ruffled dresses and the white bathing caps of the swimmers. Both Renoir and Monet painted their plein-air studies at La Grenouillère using these rapid, unmasked brushstrokes. Their technique, visible in this painting, is now described by scholars as initiating "the pictorial language of classic Impressionism." 2

The Grands Boulevards
The Grands Boulevards, 1875
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French
Oil on canvas
20 1/2 × 25 inches (52.1 × 63.5 cm) Framed: 29 × 33 1/8 × 4 3/8 inches (73.7 × 84.1 × 11.1 cm)
The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986
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In contrast to the leisurely enjoyment depicted in La Grenouillère, Les Grands Boulevards presents the viewer with the rush of traffic on the new modern streets of Paris. A government-driven campaign in the 1850s and 60s transformed Paris into a modern city with wide boulevards, new buildings and open park spaces to meet the city’s growing economic and social needs. In this cityscape Renoir shows a variety of activities – two men in top hats engaged in conversation, a woman crossing the street with three small children and a fashionable couple out for a drive in their opentop carriage. Featured prominently in the left foreground and at the far right side of the picture are gas lamps – another modern addition to the streets of Paris.
1 As quoted by Christopher Riopelle, "Renoir and the City" (Renoir Landscapes: 1865-1883, p. 33) from the original source J. Renoir, Renoir, My Father (p. 27), trans. R. and D. Weaver, Boston, 1962.

2 As quoted by Colin B. Bailey (Renoir Landscapes: 1865-1883, p. 95) from the original source C. F. Stuckey, Claude Monet, 1840-1926 (p. 194), exh. Cat., Chicago (The Art Institute of Chicago), New York 1995.

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