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.
In the late 1890s, Renoir returned to painting images of fashionable and extravagantly dressed women. This kind of visual pageantry was one of Renoir's favorite themes and was often exemplified by young girls clad in elaborately decorated hats. In addition to formal society portraits, he painted anonymous models in this manner, focusing on their youthful and stylish finery. 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, with single figures or pairs. It was with pictures such as these, it seems, that he found a real market in the 1890s, particularly with Durand-Ruel" (Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 251).
Renoir's interest in women's fashion, especially millinery, is well-documented. The painter 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 from 1880, Renoir wrote to an unidentified model, "Come to Chatou tomorrow with a pretty summer hat. Do you still have that big hat that 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 milliner's shop (Daulte no. 274; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts). The following year, he suggested to Madame Charpentier, an important early patron, 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). Renoir also admitted 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).
In the present painting, the focal point is a russet-haired girl in an ornamented red dress wearing a broadly rimmed black hat with elaborate plumes. Salmon-colored flowers adorn her hair and accent her pink ruffled collar. Although the sitter's sharply defined face occupies the center of the canvas, the black hat exerts an unexpected power over the composition. The rapid, fluid brushstrokes of Renoir's mature period articulate her costume. John House provides an account of the artist's late style that aptly describes the present painting: "His color schemes began to grow warmer and his touch more mobile. Soft varied nuances were threaded through his figures, and his backgrounds began to be treated, at times, with a more emphatic touch, which draws them into an active relationship with the main subject. This process of surface enrichment ushered in the ebullience of his last works" (op. cit., p. 268).