Renoir once said, “Black is the queen of the
colors.” Woman with Parrot is said to celebrate
the drama of the color black. Artists make
intentional color choices to communicate
moods and messages. Have students bring in a
photograph of someone they know (place in a
protective plastic sheet), which they will use as
inspiration to sketch a portrait. After thinking
about one quality the person has which students would want to communicate, offer them
oil pastels or paints and ask them to use one
color more prominently to evoke this quality
and communicate that message.
The subject, Lise Tréhot, is a woman Renoir
met early in his career (ca. 1866), and to whom
he had been linked romantically. Renoir painted
several portraits of Tréhot, but this painting
would be among his last of her, for within a year
of its creation, Tréhot married another man.
The portrait was made during the latter half
of the nineteenth century, when French women
were just beginning to gain more rights but,
as in many countries at the time, still lagged
critically behind their male counterparts. For
instance, French women were not granted legal
majority, could not vote, own property, study
in universities, or divorce. Some art historians
have suggested the parrot might have been a
symbol for women’s position in society.
environment, and the exotic parrot, otherwise
trapped in its gilded, extraordinary cage. One
wonders if the woman is aware of this similarity, as she gazes devotedly at the bird, perhaps
empathizing with its life.
Portraits of women in the late nineteenth
century reflect the roles of women at the
time. Compare Woman with Parrot to other
nineteenth-century female portraits, such as a
painting by Mary Cassatt or another painting
by Renoir. Have students consider the way a
marginalized group in society is viewed today.
What artists have called attention to this group
and in what ways? If students were to call
attention to this group, what would they want
people to think about? Ask them to create a
proposal for an artwork that would highlight
an issue about and raise awareness towards
This painting conveys a certain mood. How
would you describe the mood of Woman with
Parrot Describe the environment that the
painting suggests. Where are we? What time
period is it? What do you see that supports your
conclusions? Compare the woman and the parrot. How are they similar? How are they different? At the time of the portrait, parrots as
domestic companions were believed to speak
more freely around women and children. Why
do you think Renoir chose to paint the woman
holding the bird?
What can Renoir’s choices in color and composition tell you about the woman? Consider
how she is standing, what she is wearing and
what she is doing. Try taking her pose—how
does it feel? What might she be thinking about?
SchoolArts December 2007
Discuss the meaning of empathy with your
students. Ask them to each choose a character in a novel they’ve read with whom they
empathize. Through writing exercises, have
them consider why they empathize with this
character, and in what way he or she calls out
to them. Using paint or any other media, create a portrait that might offer other viewers a
glimpse of the “soul” of this character that is
conveyed by the gesture, color, setting, symbols and composition of their work.
Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841–1919): Woman
with Parrot, Selections from the Permanent
Collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum Teacher Guide. www.guggenheim.
renoir.php. Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2003.
Dumas, Ann and John Collins. Renoir’s Women.
New York: Merrell, in assoc. with Columbus
Museum of Art, 2005.
Renoir, Jean. Renoir, My Father (Trans. Weaver,
Randolph and Dorothy). Boston: Little, Brown
and Co., 1962.
Vollard, Ambroise. Renoir: An Intimate Record.
New York: Dover Publications, 1990
Written by Stacy Fisher, education assistant, Solomon
R. Guggenheim Museum. Adapted from the Selections
from the Permanent Collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Teacher Guide by Sharon Vatsky (
Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2003).