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.
In contrast to his contemporaneous portrait practice, in which the expectations of his well-heeled sitters often led him to adopt surprisingly traditional methods, still-life painting provided Renoir the welcome opportunity to improvise freely in his technique. He explained to Georges Rivière that painting still lifes “is a form of mental relaxation. I do not need the concentration that I need when I am faced with a model…I can experiment boldly with tones and values without worrying about destroying the whole painting. I would not dare to do that with a figure" (quoted in Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 183). In the present still-life, for example, a rich display of pomegranates and figs provide Renoir with a pretext for a luscious display of brushwork that fills the canvas to the brim, almost tempting the fruits to fall right off the edge of the picture plane.
Renoir utilizes a riot of colors to depict the fruits before him. Deftly arranged to fill the rectangular space, the pomegranates and figs cast shadows made of deep blue, green and red. The tablecloth is built up with multi-directional brushwork that is chromatically harmonized with the fruits depicted. The deep blue in the shadow of the pomegranate can be seen in subdued form in the unripe skin of one of the figs and along the lower edge of the composition. The rich crimson of the ripest pomegranate flashes beneath the central fig and again in a lighter wash along the upper edge, providing a framework to the arrangement.
As much as Renoir was deeply inspired by the still lifes of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, a later generation of modernist painters would find inspiration in Renoir, as seen in the comments by the American artist Marsden Hartley in a letter he wrote to Kenneth Hayes Miller in 1920: “I think of Renoir as a great painter of fruit. It always seems like the journey through the sensuous orchard of the aesthetic sound in Renoir. His flesh is eatable—and his vistas and still lifes so strokable” (quoted in B. Weber, The Heart of the Matter, The Still Lifes of Marsden Hartley, exh. cat., Berry Hill Galleries, New York, 2003, p. 15).