In 1907 the Impressionist painter, Pierre Auguste Renoir, bought Les Collettes, a pretty pale stone farmhouse set in a garden of olive trees looking out over the sparkling blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Like others, he had fallen in love with the clear colors and the quality of light of the south of France.
Pierre Auguste Renoir
Renoir was one of the leading Impressionists of the time, along with Alfred Sisley, Claude Monet and Edouard Manet, pioneering the revolutionary style that rejected the stiff, formal French academic painting for outdoor scenes, capturing the changing, luminous light. Renoir discovered the region in 1882 when he visited Paul Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence on a journey to Italy. He was already famous, known particularly for Luncheon of the Boating Party, produced in 1881 and one of the most important works of the past 150 years.
This trip was a turning point in Renoir's life. The works of the great Renaissance masters like Raphael and Titian came as a shock, causing him to turn his back on his previous work. He found their skill and vision humbling and later recalled “I had gone as far as I could with Impressionism and I realized I could neither paint nor draw.”
So he stopped painting those glorious landscapes where the light skips across the image and began to concentrate on the female form. He produced monumental, voluptuous nudes which were only appreciated a few years ago, though at the time, some private collectors, notably the Philadelphia inventor Albert Barnes, bought many of the paintings. Today you can see a great collection of Impressionist paintings, including Renoir, at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.
The two-story house is simple, a series of small rooms with high ceilings and large windows overlooking the bay and the hills to the back. The typical bourgeois villa has red tiles on the floor and plain walls, furniture and mirrors. The kitchen and the bathroom are functional rather than built to impress.
There are 14 paintings by Renoir on the walls, with a landscape in his son Claude’s room placed beside the window with the view that inspired the painter. There may be high rise apartments in the distance, but the nearby garden and the red roofs of the neighbors’ houses give you a very real impression of what it must have been like in the early 20th century.
In 1890 Renoir married one of his models, Aline Charigot, born in Essoyes. They already had a son, Pierre, born 5 years before (1885-1952). Jean (1894-1979) who became a filmmaker, followed, then Claude, who became a ceramic artist (1901-1969).
The most striking room is Renoir’s grand atelier on the 1st floor. A stone fireplace and chimney dominate one wall; in the middle of the room stands a large easel with his wooden wheelchair in front of it and painting materials to either side.
He had a second petit atelier with views over the bay, the gardens and the mountains in the background, again furnished with a smaller wooden wheelchair. His rheumatoid arthritis was in an advanced stage, but he continued to paint until the day he died, on December 3 rd, 1919.
Changing Exhibits in the House
Exhibits about his life change each year, taken from an important sale on September 19th, 2013 in New York. Heritage Auctions had put together archives, objects and photographs from Renoir’s descendants, all of which were bought by the Town of Cagnes-sur-Mer with help from the Friends of the Renoir Museum. Displayed on the walls and in cases in the different rooms, the fragile items include family albums, glass plates, bills for work done on the house, and letters.
In the basement, there’s a room devoted to Renoir’s sculptures. He developed this art form while at Les Colettes, helped by a young artist, Richard Guino, who worked the clay for him. Don't miss this room; these sculptures form a remarkable body of work where Renoir’s love of sinuous forms captures the subjects perfectly.
19 chemin des Collettes
Tel. : 00 33 90 04 93 20 61 07
Open Wednesdays to Mondays
June to September 10am-1pm & 2-6pm (gardens open 10am-6pm)
October to March 10am-noon & 2-5pm
April, May 10am-noon & 2-6pm
Closed Tuesday and December 25th, January 1st and May 1st
Admission Adult 6 euros; free for under 26 years
Admission combined with the Chateau Grimaldi in Cagnes-sur-Mer, adult 8 euros.
How to get there
By car: From the autoroute A8 take the exits 47/48 and follow signs to Centre-Ville, then signs to the Musee Renoir.
By bus: From Nice or Cannes or Antibes, take the bus 200 and stop at Square Bourdet. Then it’s a 10-minute walk via Allée des Bugadières to Av. Auguste/Renoir.
Cagnes-sur-Mer Tourist Office
6, bd Maréchal Juin
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 93 20 61 64
About Renoir in Essoyes in Champagne
Renoir lived for much of his early life and married his wife Aline in the delightful village of Essoyes in Champagne. You can visit his atelier, discover the story of his life and walk around the charming village where he painted so many outdoor scenes.
More to See Around Essoyes in Champagne
If you are in Essoyes in Champagne, it's well worth the short trip northeast to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises where Charles de Gaulle lived. In the village, you can see his house and the excellent Memorial museum to the great French leader.
Spend a little longer and visit other hidden treasures in Champagne like Voltaire's chateau.