About this artwork

Renoir’s interest in the mother and child theme was awakened with the birth of his first son Pierre in 1885. In 1894, around the time this picture was painted, their second son Jean was born. Renoir was interested in Rubens and Delacroix’s rich use of colour which he observed in the Louvre, Paris. His appreciation is evident in this painting, which is reminiscent of Rubens’s portraits of his wife and children. The woman in this painting is not Renoir’s wife, but bears a resemblance to their childminder Gabrielle Renard, who was employed to look after baby Jean. The simple positioning of the figures is structurally balanced, and shows Renoir looking back to Raphael’s Virgin and Child paintings that he so greatly admired. He once declared that ‘every woman nursing a child is a Virgin by Raphael’.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Renoir was one of the leading Impressionist painters. He initially trained as a porcelain painter in Paris, but by 1858 he had dedicated himself to a career as an artist. He studied the masterpieces in the Louvre, and particularly admired Boucher. In the early 1860s he entered Charles Gleyre's studio, where he met Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and subsequently formed friendships with Camille Pissaro and Paul Cézanne. Renoir believed art did not have to tell a story, and through his encounters with the other artists, his brushwork became more broken and his palette lightened. Renoir mainly painted figures and his portraits were acclaimed at the Paris Salon. As a result of his visit to Italy in 1881 his work became more linear, using classic forms painted with great luminosity.