Early in his career, Wagner learned both the elements and the practical, political realities of his craft by writing a handful of operas which were unenthusiastically, even angrily, received. Beginning with Rienzi (1838-40) and The Flying Dutchman (1841), however, he enjoyed a string of successes that propelled him to immortality and changed the face of music. His monumental Ring cycle of four operas — Das Rheingold (1853-54), Die Walküre (1854-56), Siegfried (1856-71) and Götterdämmerung (1869-74) — remains the most ambitious and influential contribution by any composer to the opera literature.
A great music lover, Renoir was one of the first admirers of Wagner in France. At the beginning of 1882, when the painter was travelling in the south of Italy, he had the opportunity to visit Palermo where Wagner was staying. After two fruitless attempts, Renoir was finally introduced to the “maestro” who, the day before, had put the final notes to Parsifal.
The course of this meeting is well known thanks to a letter from Renoir to one of his friends, dated 15 January 1882: