The Taste of Our Time

The Taste of Our Time

The Taste of Our Time

The Taste of Our Time

Excerpt

PIERRE-AUGUSTE RENOIR was born at Limoges on February 25, 1841, the next to last of five children. His father, who eked out a living as a tailor, decided to quit Limoges in 1845 and moved with his family to Paris. But there he remained as poor as before, and the children were obliged to make their own way at an early age. Pierre was a good-humored, serious-minded boy with a gift for drawing, as the doodlings in his school books prove, and in ear for music that had already impressed Charles Gounod, who was then choir master at the Eglise Saint-Roch where young Renoir sang on Sundays. There was some hesitation, then, when it came time to settle on a career for him, but in the end his father decided to article the boy to a branch of the ceramics industry, the traditional pride of Limoges. It was hoped that, with his aptitude for drawing, he would develop into a painter on porcelain, a craft that would stand him in good stead for the rest of his life. So at thirteen he entered on his apprenticeship in an atelier of porcelain painters, with the prospect of one day qualifying for a position in the great porcelain factory at Sèvres.

"My job," he later told Vollard, "consisted of sprinkling tiny bouquets on a white ground, for which I was paid at the rate of five sous a dozen. When there was larger ware to decorate, the bouquets were larger too, so that I was paid a little more, but only a little, mind you, since the owner felt that after all, for their own good, of course, he musn't steep his 'artists' in wealth. All the dishware we painted was shipped off to the Far Eastern countries. I might add that the owner took good care to stamp everything with the Sèvres trademark, borrowed for the occasion. Once I had got into the swing of things, I moved on from the little nosegays to figure painting, but at the same starvation wages. I can remember that Marie-Antoinette's profile used to bring me in eight sous. . . ."

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