This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue critique of Pierre-Auguste Renoir being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute, as established from the archive of François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein.
This painting will be included in volume III or subsequent volumes of the Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles de Renoir being prepared by Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville published by Bernheim-Jeune.
The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 brought further tribulations to Renoir, who was by this time an invalid confined to a wheelchair, his hands and legs crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. A month after the conflict commenced, both of Renoir's eldest sons, Pierre and Jean, were wounded in the fighting. Jean returned to the front and was wounded again, this time more seriously, in April 1915. Renoir's wife Aline, to whom the artist had been married for 25 years, suddenly died in June of that year; she was only 56. "The more intolerable his suffering became," Jean wrote, "the more Renoir painted" (Renoir, My Father, New York, 1958, p. 426). The painter's eyesight was as keen as ever, unlike that of Monet and Degas in their old age. Brushes had to be strapped to Renoir's gnarled and twisted hands, but Jean claimed that his father's arm "was as steady as that of a young man" (ibid., p. 423).
The bather continued to be Renoir's favorite theme, the female nude in the landscape, seen after she has she has emerged from her bath or swim, cleansed and refreshed, metaphorically reborn amid nature, as if she were a nymph or goddess out of antiquity having completed her ritual ablutions. There was no subject that better communicated the joy Renoir experienced as he gazed upon and relished the sensuality of the female form, while at the same time he could express the exhilaration he felt at being immersed in the brilliant light of the Midi. He remarked to Albert André, "Look at the light on the olive trees... it shines like a diamond... It's pink, it's blue... it drives you mad... Ah this breast! Is it soft and weighty enough? And the pretty fold beneath it with its golden tone... It's something to get down on one's knees in front of. If there hadn't been any breasts, I think I'd never have painted figures" (quoted in A. André, Renoir, Paris, 1928, p. 29).
Renoir no longer found satisfactory the conventionally prescribed northern light of his large indoor studio in Les Collettes, his home in Cagnes-sur-Mer. In order to obtain the right effect for his outdoor figure paintings, Jean has recounted how "He had a sort of glassed-in shed built for himself, about five yards square, with window frames which could be opened wide. The light came into it from all directions. This shelter was situated among the olive trees and rank grass. It was almost as if he were working out-of-doors, but with the glass as protection for his health... While he was being put into his wheel chair, the model went outside and took her place on flower-spangled grass... The landscape was a microcosm of all the riches in the world. His eyes, nose and ears were repeating" (op. cit., pp. 428-429).
Seated poses, as seen here, predominate in Renoir's bathers, resulting in a weighty and volumetric pyramidal form that fills out the canvas and lends the women a serene and timeless aspect. Picasso took inspiration from Renoir's bathers to create the massive and monumental impact of his neo-classical women (e.g., Zervos, vol. 4, no. 329). The model for the present painting is very likely Madeleine Bruno, a young girl from Cagnes who first posed for Renoir in 1913 and continued to serve in this role until the artist's death in 1919. Madeleine remarked that she would often find it difficult to recognize her own slight figure in Renoir's treatment of her; the artist was wont to exaggerate the voluptuousness of his models to realize his ultimate, fully ripened conception of living classical form. Here, near the very end of his life, as Barbara E. White has written, Renoir "could still embody his ideals and fantasies in healthy, relaxed, convivial figures basking in a sunny rural setting. The quintessence of beauty for him was still sensuousness, best expressed through plump women who are the link between the cycle of life and artistic creativity" (Renoir, His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 280).