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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a highly competent draughtsman whose study drawings offer a stripped down and entirely charming display of his renowned talents in the genre of portraiture. Here we discuss the considerable output of this medium that exists from his oeuvre and examine the materials that he used.

Behind all of the famous paintings produced by Renoir were whole series of study sketches. His extraordinary handling of the female body was part natural talent, and part practice. He was passionate about striving for excellence and understood that the likes of Michelangelo achieved what they did through hard work. Whilst the great Italian master would study individual limbs in arrangements upon single sheets of paper, Renoir tended to complete full portraits even in whilst studying and these today serve as exceptional individual artworks in their own right. Some of the artist's most significant pieces, such as Luncheon of the Boating Party, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette and Dance at Bougival, now exist alongside their supporting drawings that have been uncovered over the past century. Many of those who follow artists such as these are particularly intrigued by any evidence of their working practises, eager to understand the methods behind some of the biggest highlights of the Impressionist movement.

The artist was involved in a far wider variety of mediums than most are aware, particularly early on in his career when he was finding his way. We can find different influences within his drawings, such was the way in which their style developed over time. Renoir produced a series of illustrations for publication in La Vie Moderne which required a specialist technique called Gillotage which transferred them from his own hand into a format that would suit this type of publication. Later on, a new method created by Charles Gillot would replace it in order to better recreate some of the halftones that many artists would use. Any artist would struggle to see any less than a precise representation of their original works in published books and magazines and so there would surely have been an element of conflict between the illustrators, such as Renoir, and also the other members of the team involved in these publishing houses. One, unfortunately, has to delve fairly deeply and into the past in order to uncover sufficient information of Renoir's drawings, such is the dominant nature of focus upon his paintings within his overall oeuvre.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir is considered to have been one of the finest draughtsman of all art history, though there are many other famous names to provide competition, from all manner of art periods and movements. First off, the drawings of Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo help mark the Renaissance era out as unique for its influence and technical genius. All that followed owes a debt of gratitude to the developments completed by these iconic artists. Within the North of Europe there was also some exceptional talent from around the Renaissance era, then followed by the Dutch Golden Age. Albrecht Durer and Rembrandt produced extraordinary drawings and etchings which helped to gain respect for artists in this region. Peter Paul Rubens drawings, often as study pieces for final paintings, were also highly impressive. Different regions have placed more importance on this medium than others, with Italian artists within the Renaissance not being considered worthy of interest unless they were skilled draughtsman, even if they impressed in fresco art.