This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue critique of Pierre-Auguste Renoir being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute established from the archives of Fran/dcois Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein.
We are grateful to Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville for confirming that this painting is included in their Bernheim-Jeune archives as an authentic work.
Throughout his career, one of Renoir's favorite themes was the visual pageantry of the everyday world, exemplified by women clad in elaborately decorated hats. As John House has written, "His most often repeated subject was the fashionable modern costume piece--figures of girls often wearing fancy hats, some head and shoulders, some half-length, some full length" (in Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 251). Renoir's interest in women's fashion, especially millinery, is well-documented. Suzanne Valadon, who posed for the painter intermittently between 1883 and 1887, recalled in her memoirs that he had a particular penchant for women's hats and had them made to order for his sitters. In a letter to an unidentified model dated 1880, Renoir wrote, "Come to Chatou tomorrow with a pretty summer hat. Do you still have that big hat you look so nice in? If so, I'd like that, the gray one, the one you wore in Argenteuil" (quoted in G. Adriani, Renoir, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Tübingen, 1996, p. 204).
In 1878, he painted his favorite model at the time, Marguerite Legrand, seated in a milliners shop (Daulte, no. 274; coll. Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.), anticipating Degas's celebrated series on the subject. The following year, he proposed to Madame Charpentier, one of his most important early patrons, that her husband feature the fashions of the week on the last page of the journal that he published, La Vie Moderne. "We could make an arrangement with milliners and seamstresses--one week for hats, the next for dresses, etc. I would visit them so that I could do the necessary drawings from different angles on site" (quoted in ibid, p. 181). In the late 1890s, the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel tried to persuade Renoir to stop painting girls in elaborate hats, since these had gone out of fashion, but the painter persisted, citing his weakness for "beautiful fabrics, shimmering silks, sparkling diamonds--though the thought of adorning myself with them is horrifying! So I am grateful to others when they do so--provided I am permitted to paint them." (quoted in ibid., p. 204).