Renoir Quotes


If you read this page after you read the book, you will encounter some thoughts that you will recognize. Others will be new. Renoir and I hope you will be delighted.

   Self Portrait, Renoir   

Renoir Self-Portrait, 1875.
Sterling and Francine Clark Institute of Art, Williamstown, MA


From Renoir's Notebook

as recorded in Renoir, My Father, by Jean Renoir:

I believe that I am nearer to God by being humble before his splendor (Nature); by accepting the role I have been given to play in life; by honoring this majesty without self-interest, and, above all, without asking for anything, being confident that He who has created everything has forgotten nothing.

The artist who uses the least of what is called imagination will be the greatest.

When art becomes a useless thing, it is the beginning of the end.

On Paintings:

To my mind a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful and pretty. Yes, pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.

A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.

What I like about painting is that it has an air of eternity about it.

I like a painting which makes me want to stroll in it, if it is a landscape, or to stroke a breast or a back, if it is a figure.

I like to fondle a picture, run my hand across it.

--in Denis Rouart, Renoir, p. 70.

On the Act of Painting:

I arrange my subject as I want it, then go ahead and paint it, like a child. I want a red to be sonorous, to sound like a bell; if it doesn't turn out that way, I add more reds and other colors until I get it. I am no cleverer than that. I have no rules and no methods; anyone can look at my materials or watch how I paint--he will see that I have no secrets. I look at a nude; there are myriads of tiny tints. I must find the ones that will make the flesh on my canvas live and quiver. Nowadays they want to explain everything. But if they could explain a picture, it wouldn't be art. Shall I tell you what I think are the two qualities of art? It must be indescribable and it must be inimitable....The work of art must seize upon you, wrap you up in itself, carry you away. It is the means by which the artist conveys his passions; it is the current which he puts forth which sweeps you along in his passion.


image-01 aline with dog

Auguste Renoir, On the Terrace

What is to be done about these literary people who will never understand that painting is a craft and that the material side comes first? The ideas come afterwards, when the picture is finished.

You come before nature with theories. Nature throws them to the ground.

Be a good craftsman. It won't stop you from being a genius.

Methods and techniques are not taught. One learns them oneself by searching.

Everything that I call grammar or primary notions of art can be summed up in one word: Irregularity.

I can't paint if it doesn't amuse me. And how can you be amused when you're wondering if what you're doing is making people grind their teeth?

On the Art of the Past:

It is necessary to take care that we don't get stuck in the forms we have inherited; it is equally necessary to make sure that, simply for love of progress, we don't detach ourselves completely from the centuries before us. . . So many marvelous discoveries have been made in the past hundred years that men seem to forget that others have lived before them.

So it's a good thing that a man like Cennini comes to remind us of ancestors we must not despise. For them [the artists of Cennini's time] the glory of making a beautiful thing took the place of a salary; they worked to ensure themselves a place in heaven, not to make a fortune on earth. Besides, in Cennini's time men decorated churches, today they decorate railway stations; it is just as well to remember, as far as their source of inspiration goes, our contemporaries are less well off than their ancestors'. But to understand the general value of the art of the past it is necessary to recall that beyond the teachings of their master, the painters had something else, something which has disappeared from modern life,


something which filled the soul of the contemporaries of Cennini--a religious faith, the most fecund source of their inspiration. It is this which gives their work the character of nobility and artlessness which we now find so charming. In short, there then existed between men and the craft they practiced a harmony which came from a common belief. -- as quoted by Lawrence Hanson in Renoir: The Man, The Painter, and His World.

   Self Portrait, Renoir   

Paolo Veronese, Wedding Feast at Cana, Louvre, Paris


In Wedding Feast at Cana, ... the light is special in quite a different way to any modern painting. --in Sophie Monneret, Renoir, p. 90.

On Himself:

It's certainly the most comical thing in the world that I am depicted as a revolutionary, because I am the worst old fogey there is among painters.

in Diane Kelder, The Great Book of French Impressionism. p. 201

Painters fancy themselves extraordinary creatures. If once they take it into their heads to put on blue instead of black, they imagine they are going to change the face of the world. Personally I have always refused to set up as a revolutionary. I have always felt, and still feel, that I am simply carying on what others have done before me, and done much better than I.

in Denis Rouart, "The Message of Renoir"

My purpose has always been to paint people as if they were beautiful fruit.

in Sophie Monneret, Renoir, p 94.

"I had wrung Impressionism dry, and I finally came to the conclusion that I knew neither how to paint nor how to draw. In a word, Impressionism was a blind alley, as far as I was concerned."

--a conversation with art dealer Ambroise Vollard about 1883, in Richard Tansey and Fred Kleiner, Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Tenth Edition, p 995.

You see, one doesn't need a hand in order to paint. The hand, that's just a lot of crap!

--recalled by Ambroise Vollard in Colin Bailey, Renoir's Portraits: Impressions of an Age, p. 264.

On Women:

I loved women even before I learned to walk.

--in Sophie Monneret, Renoir, p. 130

I can't see myself going to bed with a lawyer. I like women best when they don't know how to read, and when they wipe their babies' bottoms themselves.


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Auguste Renoir, Blonde Bather

What women may gain from education they lose in other fields. I am afraid that the generations to come won't know how to make love well, and that would be most unfortunate for those who haven't painting.

A painter who has a feeling for breasts and buttocks is a saved man.

--in Hanson, Renoir, The Man, The Painter, and His World, p. 21, among other places.

If God had not created women's breasts, I don't know if I would have been a painter.

It's with my brush that I make love.

Berthe Morisot, the most feminine of women, would make the Virgin Mary jealous.

--in Sophie Monneret, Renoir, p 114.

On Miscellaneous Subjects:

One must stroll...

Where does the bourgeoisie begin and end? Am I a bourgeois? No, I am a painter.

The pain passes, but the beauty remains.

Montmartre, with its bourgeois ladies, its ordinary working women, and its young shopgirls, whether at work or out at dances, reminds me of a slender, spruce, prettily-dressed little person, cheerful and artless.

--in Sylvie Buisson and Christian Parisot, Paris Montmartre, p 105.

Everyone sings his own song if he has a voice. One must make the painting of one's time.

-in Lawrence Hanson, Renoir: The Man, The Painter, and His World, p. 39.

I couldn't stand to see another starched shirt....The very sight of a flunky nauseated me.

Art in a stuffed shirt, whether painting, music, or literature, will always go over.

An artist must eat sparingly and give up a normal life.

Quote by His Son, Jean:

Among seekers of truth, painters perhaps come closest to discovering the secret of the balance of forces in the universe, and hence of man's fulfillment. That is why they are so important in modern life. I mean real painters: the great ones. They spring up in little groups in periods of high civilization...The authentic, the really great, pierce through the outward appearances of things. The problem is a very simple one, that of giving back to man his earthly paradise...Painters know that material needs are relative, and that the satisfactions of the mind are absolute.

--Jean Renoir, Renoir, My Father, p. 395.

Quotes by Others:

Renoir has not given a thought to fulfilling his destiny. He has lived and painted. He has done his job. Perhaps it is there that his genius lies.

--Octave Mirabeau

Renoir's nature, through his modesty as well as his confidence in life, once the effort was made, allowed him to reveal himself with all the generosity in his being, which remained undiminished by afterthoughts. Viewing his work lets us see an artist who has been blessed with the greatest gifts, who has had the gratitute to respect them.

--Henri Matisse, written for the catalogue of a French art exhibition in Oslo, 1918, the year before Renoir died.

For complete publishing references, please see the Bibliography page.

If you find other Renoir quotes meaningful to you, please send them, complete with bibliographical information.