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Renoir | Port de Marseille, le Fort Saint-Jean, 1906

In the early 1880s Pierre-Auguste Renoir made his first forays abroad; he had previously traveled no further from Paris than Normandy. The years of 1881-1884 however saw Renoir in a variety of disparate locations including Algeria, Italy and the French Riviera.
It was on these journeys that he stepped away from rendering purely figure-based compositions, rather creating an interesting series of landscapes to record his new surroundings.
There is no doubt that these travels deeply affected Renoir and his art, and indeed he would return repeatedly to the South of France, eventually choosing to settle permanently in Cagnes-sur-Mer in the early 1900s.

"Port de Marseille, Le Fort Saint-Jean" exemplifies Renoir’s canvases from these sojourns to the Mediterranean coast.
Here he depicts the Old Port of Marseille, which was originally settled in 600 B.C. by the Greeks. By the mid-1800s over 12,000 ships passed through the port per year, making it a principal trade route well into the twentieth century.
The swift strokes in this canvas lend a sense of movement to the ships and passersby, while the predominantly lighter tones emphasise the brightness and heat of the Mediterranean sun.

It has been written:
"It was in landscape painting…that Renoir achieved some of his most startling Impressionist effects and his most arresting coloristic discoveries. So completely is form dissolved in some of his paintings that Renoir comes closer to pictorial abstraction than any other artist of his time.
Landscape was also an area in which he felt a particular freedom to improvise with touch and application of paint, moving from a surface of thick impasto on one canvas to a watercolor-like application of thinned-down oil pain on another" - (Renoir Landscapes 1865-1883 (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2007-08, p. 7). | © Sotheby's