Arbres au bord de l'eau et voilier, executed around 1895, exemplifies Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s emergence from a period characterized by a tight classical style that he had adopted from old masters, such as Titian and Rubens, during a trip to Italy in 1881. The carefully outlined figures typical of his previous phase, began to be replaced by landscapes and other elements described with vibrant light and saturated colour. Renoir, at last, had returned to the impressionistic approach that had first distinguished his early production.
The warm sensuality, that came to him naturally, is demonstrated in this watercolour through his familiarly nuanced touch and subtle tones. In the present work, the artist skilfully employs colour to translate the great depth of what he sees before him. The soft blue trees that divide the composition in two are nestled amongst liquid roseate fields and echoed by the dissolving brush strokes of the azure hills beyond; Renoir has used a limited palette to depict the warmth of the day. Shadows in Renoir’s works share the reflected colour of the objects that surround them, a technique now known as 'diffuse reflection'. The small format and simple brush strokes of the scene, as well as of the study of a boat in a pond, drawn on the reverse of the sheet, suggest that Renoir executed both en plein air. The sweeping brushworks that describe the shrubbery in the foreground of the composition lead the viewer's eye gently down to the water’s edge and across to the shore beyond. The spectator thus becomes enveloped in the view that the artist has transcribed from eye to paper one sunny afternoon in the hills of France. The present watercolour evokes an atmospheric and free sense of pleasure. Renoir reportedly shocked his teacher Gleyre by saying, ‘if painting were not a pleasure to me, I should certainly not do it.’