Art Sunday: Pierre-Auguste Renoir – The Umbrellas

The Umbrellas is an oil-on-canvas painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, painted in two phases in the 1880s. It is owned by the National Gallery in London as part of the Lane Bequest but is displayed alternately in London and at the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. From May 2013 to 2019, it returned to Dublin for a six-year period.

The painting measures 180.3 centimetres (71.0 in) high by 114.9 centimetres (45.2 in) wide. It depicts a busy street scene in Paris, with most of the people depicted using umbrellas against the rain. To the right, a mother looks down at her daughters, each fashionably dressed in the styles of 1881 for the afternoon promenade. She largely conceals a female figure at the centre of the frame, caught in the act of raising or lowering her umbrella, suggesting that the rain is about to start or stop. The principal female figure to the left of the frame, a milliner’s assistant or modiste modelled by Renoir’s lover and frequent subject Suzanne Valadon, holds up her skirt against the mud and water on the road as she carries a hatbox, but has no hat, raincoat or umbrella.

A vigorous young bearded gentleman seems to be about to engage her, perhaps to offer her shelter under his umbrella. She, and one of the two girls to the right with a hoop and stick, look out at the viewer, while most of the other people go about their business. Unconventionally, the focus of the painting is not at its centre, and many of the figures are cut off by the frame as if the painting were a photograph. The composition appears natural, but the angles of the umbrellas are carefully arranged to form geometric shapes, with the main figure’s bandbox and the girl’s hoop adding rounded elements. The colours are largely blues and greys: a pattern of umbrella canopies across the top of the painting, and the dresses and coats of the people lower down.


3 responses to “Art Sunday: Pierre-Auguste Renoir – The Umbrellas

  1. Love Renoir and the lovely ladies he painted during this period. I don’t recall seeing this picture before. Not as many colors as in many of his tableaux. Thanks for all of the interesting details.

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