When he was a child, his family moved to the south of France and he and the rest of the Renoir family would be the subject of many of his father's paintings. As a young man, his father's financial success ensured that Jean was educated at the best of schools. However, is education was interrupted when World War I broke out and he joined the army, serving first as a cavalryman and later as a pilot. After the War, Jean Renoir worked as a ceramic artist but soon became fascinated by the developments in motion pictures, particularly by the works of D. W. Griffith and Charles Chaplin.
In 1925, he directed the first of several films, and in 1937 he directed what many see as his finest work, "Le Grande Illusion." The film was banned as French propaganda in Germany by senior Nazi leader, Joseph Goebbels, and eventually by Mussolini in Italy after it won the "Best Artistic Ensemble" award at the Venice Film Festival. This was followed by another cinematic success: "La Bête Humaine (The Human Beast)," a film based on an Emile Zola novel and starring the immensely popular Jean Gabin.
When World War II came, the 45-year-old Renoir joined the Film Service of the French army. With the German invasion and Occupation in 1941, he fled France to the safety of the United States where he worked in the film industry in Hollywood, California. In 1943, he produced and directed an anti-Nazi propaganda film: "This Land Is Mine," starring Maureen O'Hara and Charles Laughton. Two years later he made "The Southerner," a film regarded as his best work in America and one for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Directing.
In 1962, Jean Renoir wrote a biography titled: Renoir, My Father. In 1975 he received an Academy Award for his lifetime contribution to the motion picture industry and that same year a retrospective of his work was shown at the National Film Theatre in London, England. In 1977, the government of France awarded him with the Legion of Honor.
Jean Renoir has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6212 Hollywood Blvd.
Some of his significant films are:
- Chienne (The Bitch) (1931)
- Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (1936)
- La Grande Illusion (1937)
- La Bete Humaine (1938)
- La Regle de Jeu (1939)
- This Land Is Mine (1943)
- The Southerner (1945)