Auguste Renoir enjoyed painting people, and his painting of Julie Manet and her cat is an endearing portrait of the daughter of another Impressionist, Berthe Morisot. Many people choose cats as pets, but farmers need cats to keep rodents out of the livestock feed. Not many cats can be both friendly pets and pest controllers, but Maine coon cats often do both!
Fluffy, a Maine coon cat, ruled the barn on my grandparents’ Maine farm when I was a child. At nearly 25 lbs. and with long hair, a bushy tail like a racoon, and ear tufts like a wild lynx, she terrorized the mice population. But this black and gray tabby had a softer side and loved to come in and socialize with her family. She seemed as big as a dog to me, and her silky coat crackled with static when I stroked her.
Several legends surround the origin of Maine coon cats, now a popular cat breed everywhere. Old-timers claimed they were mixed with a raccoon, which is biologically impossible. Another old legend said France’s doomed queen, Marie Antoinette, planned an escape by a ship whose home port was Wiscasset, Maine. Although Marie missed the boat, her long-haired cats sailed to Maine and bred with local short-haired cats.
Most likely, sailors brought long-haired cats back from their sea voyages to places like Norway. But the legends are fun, and the Marie Antoinette tale leads nicely into this post about the French Impressionist, Renoir. Enjoy his painting of Julie Manet and the happy little cat snuggling in her arms.
What’s in this post?
- A little about Auguste Renoir and his painting of Julie Manet
- Helpful vocabulary
- Understanding the painting
- Activities to help you and your children explore and enjoy the painting of Julie Manet and her cat
- Don’t tell Molly, but this week’s cute picture is of my brother and me with Fluffy, the Maine coon cat! Molly will return next week!
Let’s Learn about the Artist
Pierre Auguste Renoir, self portrait, 1876, public domain
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was born in the French city of Limoges, a center for the porcelain industry. At 13, he apprenticed as a painter in a porcelain factory and became skilled at florals. When he later studied art in Paris, he joined a group of art students who rebelled against the traditional art of their day.
The Impressionists, as they came to be called, wanted to paint landscapes and scenes of everyday life en plein air, or in the open air. They saw how light changed colors and used short brush strokes to capture those fleeting effects. Their small brushstrokes of pure colors make their paintings shimmer and leave edges looking blurry.
Renoir liked to paint people enjoying life at outdoor gatherings. His Luncheon of the Boating Party is a famous example of his happy gatherings. It also shows how the Impressionists used each other and friends and family members as their models. Almost everyone in this painting can be identified, and the woman in the left foreground with the little dog is Renoir’s future wife.
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Auguste Renoir,1880-1881, public domain
Renoir painted many single and family portraits, and Julie Manet modeled for him other times, too. Julie was used to posing for her mom and knew all the Impressionists. A few years ago her diary about growing up among these artists was published.
The Artist’s Daughter, Julie with her Nanny by Berthe Morisot,1884, Minneapolis Institute of Art, public domain
These words will be in bold green the first time they come up and will help you and your children talk more easily about different parts of the painting.
- Portrait: a painting, drawing, photograph, etc. of a person, often done quite close up. The person may be looking straight forward or shown from the side–a profile. The painting Berthe Morisot and Her Daughter Julie shows both.
Berthe Morisot and her Daughter Julie Manet by August Renoir, 1894, Musee d’Orsay, public domain
- Texture: how a surface would feel if touched
- Pattern: a repetition of a design, such as a plaid
- French Impressionists: a group of artists who became friends while studying art in Paris in the 1860s. They rebelled against the Paris art establishment, preferring to paint modern life and to paint outdoors. The group included 2 women, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot. Many artists in other countries adopted the style.
Understanding the Painting, A Captured Moment in Time
Julie Manet with her cat, by Auguste Renoir,1887, public domain
Portraits can be very formal, with the sitter in their best clothes, like The Mona Lisa, which the Impressionist would have seen in the Louvre.
In this painting, everything—Julie’s dress with gold embroidery and the pretty pastel sofa and wallpaper—point to a formal drawing room. So . . . you might expect a formal portrait.
Instead the painting has captured a moment in time. It’s as if Renoir has just entered the room where Julie is cuddling her pet cat. And as she turns toward the artist, he takes a snapshot. The Impressionists loved to show these moments in time. Photography was still new, but it had a big effect on the Impressionists, who liked the sense of immediacy it gave to pictures.
Renoir’s subjects may be wearing their best clothes, but he usually shows them interacting with other people at a restaurant or with things that provide extra interest or tell a little about them—a musical instrument, a toy, a pet, etc.
Activities to Help You and Your Children Explore this Painting
Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary.
This is a great painting to learn about portraits and what they tell us about the sitter.
- What sort of things can you tell about Julie?
- Do you think she’s wearing her best dress? Remember that at this time girls always wore dresses.
- Do you think she is in her own home or the artist’s studio?
- Does she look happy?
- Is this a quiet or noisy painting?
- Do you think these are good colors for this portrait? Why or why not?
- What sort of things do you think Julie would like to do?
How would you like a portrait of you to look? Have some fun choosing clothes and other things you’d like to have in your own portrait. Tell why you’ve chosen the clothes and items. Then have some one take a photo of you and print it.
You might also find and list all the different textures and patterns in this painting. Next to each write one or two descriptive words
Before You Go
If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide, 5 Ways Art Benefits Children’s Cognitive, Physical, Spiritual, and Social Development, You’ll also get a Few Fun and Easy Activities for each Benefit.
Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.
Molly hopes you enjoyed learning about Renoir and will join us next week. We’ll be doing an art project based on his happy painting of Julie Manet and her cat. The following week will be the devotion.
Photo of Fluffy the Main Coon Cat