Working during the second half of the nineteenth century, Renoir is considered to be one of the last masters of the time who focused heavily on female sensuality. His earliest works were inspired by artists such as Manet, and he embraced the popular impressionist style with enthusiasm.
His use of colour and light in these works is stunning, and the first attempt at The Umbrellas was painted during this time.
Later in his life, Renoir decided that he was not happy with The Umbrellas. He took away some of the impressionist leanings in the painting, especially the woman in the left of the frame.
Recent analysis has shown that beneath the working-class clothes the woman wears now, there was originally a much brighter, higher-class outfit. The more muted tones of her dress and the classical lines of her appearance nonetheless draw the eyes quickly in the frame full of umbrellas.
At the time, the mixing of the two styles was considered unseemly. Renoir did not originally display the painting in public. This is understandable; though it seems tame to modern eyes, the contrast between the stylised background characters with the loose impressionistic strokes would have seemed odd against the classical style of the woman to the left.
To a modern viewer the mixing of styles could seem almost deliberate, since it brings the woman into focus and makes the rest of the painting feel just slightly blurred, perhaps even by the rain from which they all hide. It also makes the viewer ask why that one particular woman does not have an umbrella; has she been caught in an unexpected rainstorm?
Today the painting is in the possession of The National Gallery in London, but spends some of its time in Dublin at Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. From 2013 onward it is on a six-year loan, so book a trip to Ireland if you long to see this impressive work up close.