Two Sisters: Quick Bite

Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re continuing our celebration of spring with Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s flowery portrait, Two Sisters (On the Terrace; 1881). From vibrant reds to brilliant blues, this lovely painting is awash in color. Let’s zoom in and take a closer look at the details.

Two Sisters (On the Terrace; 1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Art Institute of Chicago

Cast against a lush background, Renoir’s portrait is brimming with flowers. Note the beautiful blooms on the young girl’s hat, and her bright blue gaze and rosy cheeks. How she grips on the sewing basket resting on the older girl’s lap. She, too, is festooned in flowers, from her bright red hat, to her colorful corsage. Her navy blue dress is called boater’s flannel and suggests the siblings will spend a lazy afternoon sailing down the Seine. In the background, skiffs glide along the river partially hidden behind a profusion of flowers and vines. Renoir’s Two Sisters has a relaxed, cheerful vibe and portrays an idyllic spring day.

Close-Ups of Two Sisters (On the Terrace; 1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Art Institute of Chicago

Fun Arty Fact: The two young ladies featured in Two Sisters are not related. According to the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), Renoir’s art dealer gave the painting this title for its debut at the 7th Impressionist Exhibition in 1882. Renoir displayed a total of 25 paintings at this event, but was unable to attend because he was recuperating from a respiratory illness in Morocco.

Artist Background: Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was born into a working-class family in Limoges, France. His mother was a seamstress and his father was a tailor. At age 13, Renoir took a job at the local porcelain factory painting flowers on cups, plates, and other dinnerware. In 1862, when he was 21, Renoir moved to Paris to study with painter, Charles Gleyre (1806-1874), along with soon-to-be friends and Impressionists, Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), Claude Monet (1840-1926), and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899). The group spent their off hours painting en plein air, hoping their work would one day be selected by the Salon, Paris’s prestigious annual art exhibition. After several years of rejections, Renoir’s, Lise with a Parasol (1867) debuted at the Salon. His painting received favorable reviews and gave a boost to Renoir’s reputation as a portraitist and painter.

Left: Crown of Roses (c1858) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, WikiArt (Public Domain)

Center: Self-Portrait (1875) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, WikiArt (Public Domain)

Right: Lise with a Parasol (1867), WikiArt (Public Domain)

The following year, Renoir and Monet spent two months at La Grenouillère painting side-by-side (see a comparison of their artistic styles below) and experimenting with a new style that would inspire Impressionism. However, tensions were high in Europe and the following summer France declared war on Prussia, commencing the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Renoir and his friend, Bazille chose to fight in the war, while Monet and Sisley fled to England. Bazille unfortunately, was killed in combat and Renoir’s post-war art career took a turn for the worse. Once again, he suffered multiple rejections from the Salon, who sniffed at his and his fellow Impressionists “unfinished” style of painting. To make matters worse, Renoir lost the support of a wealthy patron.

Left: La Grenouillère (1869) by Claude Monet, WikiArt (Public Domain)

Right: La Grenouillère (1869) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, WikiArt (Public Domain)

Frustrated by the Salon’s repeated rejections, Renoir and his friends decided to hold their own annual art exhibitions. The art critics were brutal and the public turned out to sneer. But the intrepid Impressionists kept painting and organizing their own art shows and eventually the public and art critics came around. To learn more about the Impressionists and their battles with the Salon, click on this Museum Bites: Coloring Outside the Lines link.

Upper Left: Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil (1873) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, WikiArt (Public Domain)

Lower Left: Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise (The Rowers’ Lunch; 1875) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, AIC

Right: The Box (1874) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, WikiArt (Public Domain)

In his early 40s, Renoir traveled to Algeria and throughout Europe. He visited museums and was inspired by the works of Delacroix, Raphael, Rubens, and Velázquez, to name a few. Renoir began to paint fewer fleeting moments and returned to a more formal style. He also married his longtime model, Aline Victorine Charigot (1859-1915) and the couple had three sons. Within a few years, he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Renoir and his family eventually moved to Cagnes-sur-Mer in the French Riviera, where the drier, milder climate eased his chronic pain. However, Renoir’s condition progressed and he was confined to a wheelchair. When he was unable to hold a paintbrush, he had it tied to his wrist.

Left: Algiers, the Garden of Essai (1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, WikiArt (Public Domain)

Right: The Piazza San Marco (1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, WikiArt (Public Domain)

Despite his failing health, Renoir remained upbeat and continued to make art. In his early 70s, he added sculpting to his resume, with the help of an assistant, Richard Guino (1890-1973). In 1919, Renoir made a final trip to Paris to visit the Louvre and view his paintings on display. He suffered a heart attack later that year and died shortly after at the age of 78. If you’d like to view more of his gorgeous work, click on this Pierre-Auguste Renoir link, courtesy of WikiArt.

Left: Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1910) by Dornac, Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Public Domain)

Right: Woman in the Garden at Collettes (1919) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, WikiArt (Public Domain)

That concludes our look Renoir and his Two Sisters. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. In the meantime, stay safe, be kind, and take care 🙂

Cover photo by Dimitris Vetsikas, courtesy of Pixabay.


Art Institute of Chicago: Two Sisters (On the Terrace; 1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Art Institute of Chicago: Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise (The Rowers’ Lunch; 1875) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Britannica: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

ImpressionistArts: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Museum Bites: Coloring Outside the Lines (2017)


TheArtStory: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

WikiArt: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Wikimedia Commons: Pierre-August Renoir (1910) by Dornac

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