Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877) by Renoir
Interpretation of Impressionist Plein-Air Landscape Painting

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Path leading through Tall Grass
(Chemin Montant dans les
Hautes Herbes)
By Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Regarded as one of the
greatest modern paintings of
the 19th century.

Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877)


Analysis of Path Leading Through Tall Grass
Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscapes


Name: Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877)
Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Impressionist landscape painting
Movement: French Impressionism
Location: Musee d'Orsay

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).


See: How to Appreciate Art.


Although Renoir is best-known for his figurative paintings, his landscapes are equally fresh and inventive. Greatly encouraged in his plein-air painting by his friends Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Alfred Sisley (1839-99), with each of whom he worked side-by-side, he also responded to the traditions and humble subject matter of the Barbizon School - represented by Jean-Francois Millet (1814-75), Camille Corot (1796-1875) and Theodore Rousseau (1812-67). In addition, he was an chronicler of the transformation of Paris under Baron Haussmann - see, for instance, The Grands Boulevards (1875, The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection), a work which also illustrates the emergence of Renoir's mature style of landscape painting with its quick, silvery brushstrokes. As well as his outdoor landscapes and townscapes, Renoir's genre painting also provided him with the opportunity to explore his fascination with the effects of outdoor light, a quest amply illustrated by his masterpiece The Swing (La Balancoire) (1876, Musee d'Orsay). It is fair to say, therefore, that landscape art was not only a genre in which Renoir excelled, it was a pastime that afforded him considerable scope for creativity as well as a welcome respite from his commercial portraiture.

NOTE: For more background to French Impressionism and the small group of Paris-based artists involved, please see our 10-part series, beginning with: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

Analysis of Path Leading Through Tall Grass by Renoir

Renoir never ceased painting nature. He began in the forest of Fontainebleau and ended on the Cote d'Azur, after having worked in the suburbs of Paris, at Venice, Naples and in Algeria. Strangely, among his contemporaries, he was considered a portraitist.

NOTE: For examples of Renoir's Impressionist figure painting, see the sparkling Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876), and the famous Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-1).

The chronology of Renoir's landscapes is not always easy to determine. Path Leading Through Tall Grass, which must have been painted in the suburbs of Paris, belongs to his early period. It was certainly painted before 1880. There is often a human element in Renoir's landscapes. There is in this one. Women and children are out walking on the path winding through the long grass. Except in the case of Pissarro (1830-1903), the Impressionists rarely painted in the fields. Impressionism was an art invented by townspeople amazed at the discovery of nature and light after the grey atmosphere of the urban environment. The delight of gambolling in natural surroundings is the usual Impressionist theme; a theme which is traditional in French painting and the source of inspiration for the courtly scenes of the Middle Ages - the Sorgues frescoes in the Louvre, the green tapestries of the fifteenth century and the conversazioni of Watteau and his school - see, for instance, his sublime Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717, Louvre, Paris; Charlottenburg, Berlin).



Path Leading Through Tall Grass resonates with the vaporous effects of the midday heat, accentuated by Renoir's golden palette and sprinkling of red poppies. In the undulating field which seems to flame in the sunshine, a red parasol also strikes a joyful note in the centre of the picture. The parasol, symbol of summer brightness, is often depicted by the Impressionists; it continually crops up in the pictures of Monet, Manet, Degas, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Pissarro and Renoir.

NOTE: For a contrast, see Monet's Poppy Field (Argenteuil) (1873, Musee d'Orsay). By comparison with Monet's more measured composition, Renoir's masterpiece is bursting with heat as well as the sheer joy of a summer's day.

Explanation of Other Impressionist Landscapes

The House of the Hanged Man (1873) by Paul Cezanne.
Musee d'Orsay.

Misty Morning (1874) by Alfred Sisley.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Red Roofs (1877) by Pissarro.
Musee d'Orsay.

Vegetable Garden with Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pontoise (1877) Pissarro.
Musee d'Orsay.

Snow at Louveciennes (1878) by Alfred Sisley.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Bridge at Maincy (1879) by Paul Cezanne.
Musee d'Orsay.

• For an explanation of other Impressionist landscapes, see: Homepage.

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