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 François 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.
Renoir painted Femme dansant en costume d'italienne following his return from his eye-opening tour of Italy in 1881. This trip, like his travels in Algeria the previous spring, was a direct result of the newfound financial security that the artist had gained through portrait commissions and regular purchases by the dealer Durand-Ruel. "Algeria seems largely to have conformed to [Renoir's] expectations," states the scholar John House, "as he harnessed his techniques of colored sketching to the depiction of its lavish foliage and colorful local types. However, he came in retrospect to see the Italian trip as the watershed of his career" (in Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 220). This was largely due to the inspiration that Renoir gathered from Italian old masters, including Veronese, Tiepolo, and Raphael, as well as the Pompeian frescoes he saw in Naples. Barbara Ehrlich White has written, "These travels were not only an important and urgent part of his artistic education, they were also a rite of passage into the bourgeoisie of which success as an artist would make him a member. Many of Renoir's closest friends were members of the upper class. Renoir, too, wanted to be a tourist, now that he could afford it" (quoted in B.E. White, Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p.105). "I have contracted the fever of desire to see the paintings of Raphael," he wrote to his patrons Georges and Marguerite Charpentier at the beginning of his journey, "And so I have begun to devour my Italy" (quoted in G. Adriani, Renoir, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Tübingen, 1996, p. 43).
Well aware that his Italian voyage would help his success with wealthy collectors, the critics, and the Salon jury, Renoir filled his five-by-eight-inch travel sketchbook with pencil sketches of the scenery, buildings, and people that he encountered in Italy. He developed these recorded impressions into landscape and figure paintings upon his return to Paris. Although the female figure in the present painting stands against a generic background that suggests it was invented in the artist's studio, her visage is based on a model that Renoir both sketched and painted while in Venice. Renoir later sold the painted head, entitled La Vénitienne, (Daulte, 385) to the Charpentiers. The dancer's pose and specific costume of a straw hat, cross-necked blouse, multicolored tiered skirt, and shoes with large bows are likely a fusion of observed reality and a traditional type of Italian street performer as she existed within the 19th century French imagination. Renoir executed a similar painting based on his sketches called Italienne au Tambourin (Daulte, 383; private collection), which shows another female performer in a local costume of a long skirt with a brightly striped apron and a similar but simplified blouse. In this work, the young entertainer leans against a stucco wall that abuts a distinctly Mediterranean shrubbery, evoking the context of small Italian street. These two canvases manifest the sense of romance and simple charm that Renoir's Parisian audience associated with Italy and sought out in paintings of the time.