Renoir’s career was launched in 1874 when a group of painters, who had been previously shunned by the Salon de Paris, a popular art establishment, set up their own Paris exhibition.
These group of men included a number of well-known painters, including Edgar Degas, Renoir, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro. This alternative display of works was called ‘the Salon of the Refused’ (Salon des Refusés) and the Impressionist movement was thus born.
This extraordinarily talented group of painters undertook their work mainly outdoors, specialising in their shared interests in landscapes and modern urban life rather than historical settings. This manner of painting was disparaged by the traditionalist painters of the time.
The Impressionists worked with pure bright colours, outdoors in the sunlight, creating nuances of light and shadow and capturing the atmosphere of a scene. This lighter method of painting also used spontaneous and excessive brush strokes.
Sometime during 1881-82, Renoir made a trip to Italy where his interest in different art techniques flourished. Taking his inspiration from the grandeur and simplicity of Renaissance art, he began to experiment, exploring a new way to paint and abandoning the main principle of Impressionism – that scenes should be painted outside. The result was a unity of impressionist and renaissance which can be seen in his paintings from this date onwards.
In the late summer of 1883, Renoir travelled to Guernsey and spent some time in the capital, St. Peter Port. Surrounded by stunning views he started work on fifteen pictures during his stay, most of which were completed later in his studio, back home in Paris.
By the Seashore is also thought to have been painted in the artist's Paris studio after his trip to Guernsey. The beach depicted here is possibly inspired by, but not actually, a view of the Channel Islands. It is generally thought to be a beach near Dieppe, on the coast of Normandy.
Painted on a vertical canvas, following traditional oil painting techniques, the subject would have been sketched onto the canvas, often with charcoal, then paint was transferred to the canvas using paintbrushes, palette knives or sometimes rags.
The model in the picture was Aline Charigot, his then girlfriend, muse and future wife, whom he would marry 7 years later in 1890. As his muse, Aline also appears in many other Renoir works, including ‘Motherhood (Woman breast feeding her Child)’, the child being their son Pierre.
In this painting Aline sits in a wicker chair ‘by the seashore’, looking directly at the observer. She is wearing fashionable clothing of the period and appears to be undertaking some kind of needlework or crochet. Renoir’s new approach to his art is visible in the carefully drawn features of Aline’s face.
Much attention has been paid to the form and technique of the painting and there is less of the spontaneity of his ‘impressionist’ works although some of the freer technique can still be seen if you look carefully at the background strokes. To depict the seashore, he has used wide and free brush strokes, mixing pigments of orange, blue, brown and green. In the far background one can see mountain tops and sailing boats on the horizon.
By The Seashore is currently housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where it has resided since 1929.