Two Sisters or On the Terrace is an 1881 oil-on-canvas painting by French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The dimensions of the painting are 100.5 cm × 81 cm. The title Two Sisters (French: Les Deux Sœurs) was given to the painting by Renoir, and the title On the Terrace (French: Sur la terrasse) by its first owner Paul Durand-Ruel.
Renoir worked on the painting on the terrace of the Maison Fournaise, a restaurant located on an island in the Seine in Chatou, the western suburb of Paris. The painting depicts a young woman and her younger sister seated outdoors with a small basket containing balls of wool. Over the railings of the terrace one can see shrubbery and foliage with the River Seine behind it.
In 1880 to 1881, shortly before working on Two Sisters, Renoir worked in this particular location on another well-known painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party.
Jeanne Darlot (1863—1914), a future actress who was 18 years old at the time, was posing as “the elder sister.” It is unknown who posed as the “younger sister,” but it is stated that the models were not actually related.
Renoir began work on the painting in April 1881 and on July 7, 1881, it was bought by the art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, for 1,500 francs. The painting was presented for the first time to the public at the 7th Impressionist exhibition in the spring of 1882. In 1883 it was known to be in the collection of Charles Ephrussi, an art collector and a publisher, but in 1892 the painting was returned again to the collection of the Durand-Ruel family.
In 1925, the painting was sold to Annie S. Coburn from Chicago for $100,000. After her death in 1932 the painting was bequeathed to the Art Institute of Chicago, where it has remained since 1933.
Renoir’s meeting with Diaz goes down as one of the turning points in Renoir’s career, to which must be added the revelation of Courbet and Manet. Everything points to an influence of Delacroix at this time, too, but his chief interest seems to have gone to Courbet first, then to Manet, who had just come into the limelight with an exhibition of modern painting at Martinet’s, and again with the famous Salon des Refusés held in 1863. Manet’s pictures, which had scandalized the public, made a deep impression both on the young group at Gleyre’s studio and on several of their fellow students at the Académie Suisse, Pissarro, Cézanne and Guillaumin. Now, too, Renoir and Cézanne met and became friends.
Turned down at the 1864 Salon, but accepted in 1865 with his Portrait of Madame W.S. and Summer Evening, Renoir sent in to the 1866 Salon a canvas whose pigment was slapped on with the palette knife after the manner of Courbet–Young Man walking his Dogs in the Forest of Fontainebleau (National Gallery of Art, Washington)–but it was refused. Painted in much the same manner, his Diana was refused at the 1867 Salon. But Renoir soon realized that this technique was not for him, and, painting his Lise, saw it accepted at the 1868 Salon.
In the contrast of the dark belt against the white dress, we see the influence of Manet–an influence on Renoir that never went deep, however–as we see it again in the Portrait of Sisley and his Wife, with the red and yellow striped dress and the grey trousers. But though our first glance at the subject and composition brings Manet to mind, very different from him indeed are the wellrounded modeling of forms and the juxtaposed passages of light and shadow. Closer to Courbet is the Bather with a Dog, accepted at the 1870 Salon along with Woman of Algiers (National Gallery, Washington), an odalisque with reminders of Delacroix not only in the theme, but also in the color-scheme.
It is a matter of considerable interest to see how different the landscapes of the early paintings are from the figures. Their treatment–as we see it in the Park of Saint-Cloud (1866) or the Champs-Elysées (1867)–is much more akin to Corot than to Courbet. In them, in fact, we find the first signs of Renoir’s trend towards Impressionism, already discernible, moreover, in the Park of Saint-Cloud and the ice-skating scenes of 1868 and 1869, and patent in the views of La Grenouillère, which date from the same years.
Of the three versions of the latter, those of the National Museum, Stockholm–painted from the same angle as Monet La Grenouillère in the Metropolitan Museum, New York–and the Reinhart Collection, Winterthur, are a prelude to the boating scenes at Argenteuil after 1870, by virtue of the landscape reflected in the rippling water in distinctly separate brushstrokes. Suggested by the subject itself, this style it was, very probably, that led to the coining of a term–the famous “comma” brushstroke–that summed up impressionist technique.
Quite different, strangely enough, are the Pont des Arts (1868), a very neat, clean-cut piece of work, and Lighters on the Seine, a canvas in which, on close inspection, we can detect a skillful medley of Corot and Jongkind, two of the forerunners of Impressionism. But the subdued light and the cloudy sky à la Jongkind have nothing of the nimble, fluttering touch of an impressionist picture, while the very freely schematized treatment à la Corot bears no hint of the division of tones.
The work of his predecessors had much to teach Renoir, but none of them can be said to have affected him decisively. Neither Courbet nor Manet left a lasting impress on his temperament, so different from theirs at bottom. As Renoir put it later on, he and his friends had looked to Manet “as the standard-bearer of the group, but only because his work was the first to get down to that simplicity we were all out to master.” And so it seems in retrospect today. As against the sleek, insipid productions of the official painters, the work first of Courbet, then of Manet, must have seemed to these young men like an inspiring hope of salvation, with its directness, its disdain of any artifice, as fresh and clean as official art was bogged down with superannuated dogma. Even so, Manet had only been a stepping-stone; each of them was to go much farther along the path his own temperament dictated.
The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 now scattered the group momentarily. Manet, Degas and Bazille volunteered or were called up, while Monet and Pissarro took refuge in England, as did Sisley, too, who was a British subject. Disregarding his calling-up orders, Cézanne slipped away to L’Estaque on the sly. Renoir, apparently shrugging his shoulders and leaving things to fate, politely turned down General Douay’s offer of protection and found himself shipped off to Bordeaux, comfortably remote from the front. There he painted portraits of his company commander, Darras, and his wife.
After the capitulation, he spent two idyllic months of family life in a neighboring chateau, where he gave painting lessons to his friends’ pretty daughter, was attended like a king, and spent his time horseback riding. His friends were reluctant to let him go for fear he would come to harm in the fighting that had broken out again. But he finally got away, and was soon dividing his time between Paris and his mother’s house at Louveciennes, though in the hectic days of the Commune he ran considerable risk in doing so. In later years he liked to reminisce about his experiences in these eventful days.
Always the Same Draperies and the Same Virgins!
After such a profession of faith as this, how is it possible to contend that Renoir was heedless or disdainful of all elevated thought? With Cézanne and Van Gogh he knew full well what our modern world lacks, — a sense of the Divine.
To this matter he returns in the preface to Cennino Cennini’s Livre de l’Art, where he explains that the general value of ancient art resides in «that something which has disappeared — religious feeling, the most fruitful source of their inspiration (i. e., — Cennini’s contemporaries). It is that which gives all their works that character of nobility and candour, at one and the same time, and in which we find so much charm…
To sum up everything,» he continues, «there then existed between men and the environment in which they moved a harmony born of a common belief… After this one can understand the cause of the general progress in art and of its unity wherever a lofty religious conception holds sway… So much so that one may almost say that, when these fundamental principles are lacking, Art cannot exist».
Do not these words justify us in saying that the crisis through which Renoir passed was not merely a technical one, but spiritual, philosophical, anti-rationalist, — a crisis of the soul? His desire was «to be touched by grace», so that his mind might receive the god which would animate it. But Renoir did not lose himself on those heights. Raphael’s Venus, — she «who comes to supplicate Jupiter», made the same impression upon him as «a good fat gossip on her way back to the kitchen», and he was quite of Stendhal’s opinion, that Raphael’s women are commonplace and heavy.
However, when in Florence, La Vierge à la Chaise caused him deep emotion. «I went to see this picture intending to have a good laugh,» he related to M. Vollard. «But behold! I found myself in front of the most free, most solid, most marvellously simple and living piece of painting it is possible to imagine, — a picture with arms and legs of real flesh, and how touching an expression of maternal tenderness! »
Renoir became somewhat rapidly tired with the painting of the Renaissance. « Always the same draperies and the same Virgins! » And he proceeded to Naples for a rest. The art of Pompeii and that of the Egyptians delighted him. He found there Corot’s « simplicity of work » and even his silver-grey colour. Face to face with that art he came to understand form and volume; there was no atmosphere, no subtle play of light, no expression of matter; form was wholly created by the relationship between the tones, whilst volume was suggested by modelling and passing touches.
He also took a lesson in pictorial technique which a chance discovery soon developed. For a time it was the technique of fresco-painting which above all occupied his thoughts, and he would no longer work save with red and yellow ochre, green and black terra. On returning to France he painted, after that fashion, at the house of M. Bérard, at Wargemont, two decorations inspired by hunting scenes. Then, one day, in 1883, he chanced to discover in a book-box on the quays a copy of the Traité de la Peinture de Cennino Cennini, mis en lumière pour la première fois avec des notes par le Chev. J. Tamboni. Traduit par V. M., Paris et Lille, 1858. The translator was one of Ingres’ pupils — Victor Mottez.
Thirty years later, at the request of this painter’s son, Renoir consented to write a preface to a new edition of the book. When in Rome, Renoir had become greatly interested in the technique of fresco-painting in oils. Now, Cennino Cennini’s book revealed to him the methods of the painters of the XVth century, — methods which Mottez had put into practice at Saint-Sulpice, Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, and Saint-Séverin. So we see Renoir launched in the direction of pictorial science, and, a passionate beginner in the painting of frescoes, he disdained oils, ignoring, as he himself related later, « the elementary truth that oil-painting must be done with oil».
Like Delacroix and Cézanne, he became anxious as regards the preservation of his materials and sought to prevent their turning black. Doubtless he foresaw that future deficiency in the case of impressionism. The hatred which suddenly took possession of him against impressionism was largely due to its ephemeral character. « The palette of the painters of to-day, » he said, « has remained the same as that of the painters of Pompeii, via Poussin, Corot, and Cézanne, — I mean to say that it has not become enriched… Happy ancients! » he exclaimed on another occasion, — « since they knew the use of only ochres and browns. »
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The last Man died, as it were, with the XVIIIth century; the Individual strove to subsist in Romanticism; and Impressionism appeared to be seized with a desire to give him his quietus, -preceded and aided by Caricature, supported clandestinely by the dissolving action of such pitiless observers as Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, who set forth man’s defects and vices. Man, in Manet’s eyes, was but an excuse for showing his wonderful skill as a painter.
In the case of Monet and Pissarro and Sisley, he was of the value of a tree-trunk, or a boat on the Seine; he played his little inglorious part as a mere touch of colour in the diffuse whole of a landscape. Nature became void of humanity, — and vegetation took on an air of ennui at being without a master and without a goal. Renoir was the only real impressionist ( Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec being of that school only through a spirit of comradeship) who kept in contact with humanity.
More than that: he interested himself in various types of humanity. The humanity of the people and that of the middle-classes. Le Cabaret de Mère Anthony, the scenes depicted at La Grenouillère, Le Moulin de la Galette, Mme Charpentier et ses Enfants, the behaviour of men in town and country, — all these, from a certain point of view, are human documents; and if these pictures, after some catastrophe, were the only remaining vestiges of society, they would suffice to reconstitute an epoch. They were of that period when Renoir was in the midst of and participating in its social life, and very naturally he came to examine his fellow-citizens very closely.
Throughout his life — and in response to his attitude of the moment — he depicted them under different aspects. He regarded the human being in his relation to nature; he examined him in his relation to his fellow-men: first of all the alliance between man and woman, then man as he is among other men, again when he is with his family, or in a restricted, intimate circle. And he was to end by seeing him merely as a creature in the midst of creation as a whole.
One may say that there is not a work by Renoir which shows indifference towards man. Whereas Pissarro, for example, effaces all trace of man, even to the very fruit of his work, Renoir, on the other hand, always reminds us of his presence: the landscape is a framework for his pleasure and his revels, an accompaniment to the beauty of his form, or an opportunity for him to bury himself amidst nature’s charms.
The principal personage in Renoir’s pictures is never the Seine, or the grass; it is the boating-man standing on the bridge facing the river and the sails, or swiftly sculling on the water; we see the dancer, or the spectator; we see friend talking with friend. During the whole of Renoir’s impressionist period we find this feeling of man’s domination over nature or woman, but at the same time we note that of love: the woman and the child who make their radiant progress amidst the field of weeds and flowers are in unison with the glory of the humble plants of the meadows.
French painter; born in Limoges; died at Cagnes in the south of France. Renoir’s beginnings differed very little from those of the many who followed conventional art courses, except that he showed great facility and also some inclination to use color more freely than his teachers liked. None of his early drawings have been preserved; he may have destroyed them, just as he destroyed certain canvases as soon as he had liberated himself from the academic yoke.
He had no sooner left the Ecole des Beaux-Arts than he turned toward Courbet, whose forceful execution and strong contrasts, whose heavy volumes and simplified drawing, offered entirely new aspects. It was only after having worked for some time as a follower of Courbet, after having tested various modes of expression, that he discovered the subtle qualities of Delacroix. By then he had experience enough to realize that these qualities truly corresponded to his own sensibility. Delacroix thus became his master by preference, chosen not by chance but from the conviction of deep affinities.
What attracted Renoir in Delacroix’s art was above all his color, his technique and -inseparable from them — the fierce vibrations of his drawing. Nothing could have better prepared him for the new approach to nature upon which he engaged, together with his friend Monet, and which was to lead eventually to impressionism. The farther he advanced toward an instantaneous retention of sensations, the more he abandoned whatever influence the principles of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts might have had upon him, the less he was preoccupied with linear expression.
For the first time in the history of art, perhaps, Monet and his group insisted on a pursuit of impressions in so direct a way that preliminary sketches became unnecessary, in fact, would have appeared a negation of their efforts. More than Delacroix had ever done, the impressionists considered drawing dependent upon color and represented their perceptions in a dense tissue of color touches never divided by incisive strokes. There was no need for linear demarcation, since form could be suggested in its fullness through color modulation alone. Nature observed on the spot offered a minimum of lines, and even these appeared unstable, broken by reverberations of their surroundings, pulverized by ever changing plays of light.
Baudelaire had already stated that nature did not offer immutable contours. “A good drawing,” he had written, “is not a hard, cruel, despotic, motionless line enclosing a form like a straitjacket. Drawing should be like nature, living and restless. Simplification in drawing is a monstrosity; nature shows us an endless series of curved, fleeting, broken lines, according to an unerring law of generation, in which parallels are always undefined and meandering, and concaves and convexes correspond to and pursue each other.”
The impressionists went further: they denied that lines existed in nature. They refused to see a contour where an object presented its profile; they were preoccupied with the appearance of its form under specific conditions. They declined to isolate it from its surroundings; they professed no interest in it, except as part of a whole, as a receptacle of iridescence. They perceived colored masses and studied their interactions; they ignored the limits of forms and planes, since light ignores them and weaves them together.
No wonder, then, that Monet and Sisley, for instance, hardly ever made drawings. Renoir, the impressionist, seems also to have drawn very little. He seldom used his pencil but occasionally worked with pastel crayons which permitted him to obtain results similar to his paintings. From time to time he drew in pen and ink, endeavoring to achieve a texture of vibrant hatchings. What preoccupied him was not the arabesque of a contour but the creation of mellow forms through the delicate interplay of light and shadows.