Beautiful Painting – The Umbrellas by Renoir


Renoir’s intriguing painting ‘Umbrellas’ , painted about about 1881-6, shows a bustling Paris street in the rain.
The composition of the painting does not focus on the centre of the picture which is a tangle of hands. It even cuts off figures at either edge like a photographic snapshot. This kind of unconventional arrangement was something that several of the Impressionists, including Renoir and Degas, enjoyed experimenting with. Although it looks naturalistically haphazard, the composition is actually carefully considered. Look at the pattern of angles and shapes made by the umbrellas.
The work is particularly intriguing in that it shows the artist at two separate points in his career, the second of which was a moment of crisis as he fundamentally reconsidered his painting style. Look at the difference between the way he has painted the woman on the left, and those on the right. During the early 1880s, he became increasingly disillusioned with the Impressionist technique. ‘I had come to the end of Impressionism, and I was reaching the conclusion that I didn’t know how either to paint or draw. In a word, I was at a dead end.’  He began to look back to more traditional art: the drawings of Ingres and the ‘purity and grandeur’ of classical art. Returning to the ‘Umbrellas’, he repainted the figure on the left in a crisper style, using a more muted palette.  Why did he leave the painting in this half and half state? Perhaps he simply lost interest in the work and moved on to new projects. Or perhaps he wanted to leave a before-and-after record of the struggle he had gone through.

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3 thoughts on “Beautiful Painting – The Umbrellas by Renoir”

  1. Hi – I don’t suppose you have any idea what the building in the background is do you? I have been trying to find out with no success…


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