Although Renoir’s work was among the more popular of that displayed, the exhibition as a whole had been poorly received by critics.
However the artists were undeterred, and planned a second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. Renoir’s contribution to this new exhibition consisted mostly of portraiture which he displayed in the hope of securing some steady income from painting portraits for wealthy clients. Among the works he exhibited was this self-portrait, known as Self Portrait I, painted in 1875.
Many famous artists have produced notable self portraits over the centuries, including Albrecht Durer, Vincent van Gogh, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.
The portrait, the first of a series of self-portraits painted by Renoir throughout the artist's life, is notable for the diversity of texture of the painting. In parts the oil paint is thickly applied, elsewhere delicate to the point of transparency, Renoir was experimenting with both technique and with pigment. The yellow highlights and blue shadows on the face hint at the mastery of colour and luminosity that the Impressionists in general, and Renoir in particular, would become known for.
The brushstrokes carefully follow the contours of the skull, making the artist’s face seem almost carved and three-dimensional. Renoir's blue and white striped shirt, spotted neck tie and dark jacket are hinted at with broad strokes of colour, but appear complete. Although the artist is well dressed, his hair, moustache and beard appear wild and unkept. His eyes stare defiantly out at the viewer.
The loose brushstrokes and use of colour give the painting a vibrancy and liveliness, in spite of Renoir’s stern expression. This way of painting was considered ground-breaking, even shocking at the time.
The painting was sold to Victor Chocquet, who went on to sell it to Dr. Georges de Bellio, a highly regarded art collector who Renoir reported had “gone crazy” about the self-portrait. The interest from Bellio, along with the patronage of collectors such as Marguerite Charpentier, was a huge endorsement of Renoir’s work.
By the third Impressionist exhibition Renoir felt confident enough to show a more varied catalogue of paintings. By the end of the 1870s Renoir was a success, and his paintings were sought after by fashionable Parisians who wished to show off their good taste.
Although Renoir would later move away from impressionism, the artist’s skillful use of light, shade and colour in Self Portrait I would be a theme throughout his long and prolific career.