Sailor Boy Portrait of Robert Nunes Pierre-Auguste Renoir Buy Art Prints Now
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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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Painted in 1883, Sailor Boy Portrait of Robert Nunes is a painting by the French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir

It is currently held in the United States, at the Barnes Foundation. This painting was created using a very traditional medium - oil on canvas. Sailor Boy Portrait of Robert Nunes depicts the eponymous Robert Nunes dressed in sailor costume against a dramatic landscape.

The colours are rich and fresh and one could even describe them as healthy looking. Indeed, one of the main things that Renoir was known for was his ability to paint human skin with an unforgettable luminosity. Many of his classic portraits that conveyed this luminosity focused on indoor scenes. With Sailor Boy Portrait of Robert Nunes, though, Renoir achieves the effect in an outdoor setting.

Post-impressionists would take things further colour-wise. Paul Gauguin would use extraordinary bright colours through paintings such as Tahitian Women on the Beach, Where Do We Come From? and Yellow Christ. He even had his own art collection, which included several of Van Gogh's Sunflowers series.

This work of art also comes at a key moment in Renoir's career, a moment when he turned away from Impressionist art.

Renoir was born in 1841 and so the start of his career as an artist coincided with the development of one of the key movements in 19th and 20th century art: the Impressionist movement, which was pushed forward by key figures such as Claude Monet. Quite early on in his career, Renoir was very much influenced by Impressionist art and this showed in the styles of paintings that he worked on in his earlier years.

In the early 1880s, though, Renoir turned away from Impressionism - indeed this period in his career is defined by art historians as a Rejection of Impressionism. Renoir was inspired by various trips that he had made to Italy and North Africa in 1882-3. These trips inspired him to move away from what he saw as the 'ephemerality' of Impressionist painting.

He also saw Impressionism as somewhat undisciplined - artists such as Monet were increasingly busy focusing on creating dreamlike, blurry, vivid works of art. We can see this, for example, in Monet's 'Waterlilies' paintings, and in his depictions of Rouen Cathedral.

In the 1880s, Renoir resisted the temptation to continue down this route. Instead of following in the footsteps of Monet, he struck out on his own and focused on creating disciplined, realistic portraits of real life people. However, his art works retained he vividness that they had acquired during the period in which he worked along Impressionist lines.

Though the majority of these more 'disciplined' portraits by Renoir were of women, Sailor Boy Portrait of Robert Nunes is a prime example of this new turn in Renoir's career.

Sailor Boy Portrait of Robert Nunes could be described as a quirky piece, as there is definitely a strong sense of the personality of the painting's subject coming through in this oil painting. The dramatic landscape behind Nunes is depicted with as much care as his figure is, demonstrating Renoir's skill as a landscape painter as well as a portrait painter. Sailor Boy Portrait of Robert Nunes is a very important and fascinating art work because it marks a definitive turning point in the artist's career.