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.
Painted in 1918, the present lot depicts the place Saint-François and its landmark clock tower in the vieille ville of Nice. In his final years Renoir suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and was confined to a wheelchair; he could no longer comfortably move about and work on site before motifs away from Les Collettes, his home in Cagnes-sur-Mer, a commune on the outskirts of Nice.
Amid the silvery gleam of huge, ancient olive trees, Renoir worked on the grounds of Les Collettes in a specially designed studio with large windows that could be opened wide to catch passing breezes. “The landscape was a microcosm of all the riches of the world,” as Jean described this setting. “’It’s intoxicating,’ [Renoir] kept repeating” (Renoir, My Father, New York, 1958, pp. 428-429). The old quarter of Nice was actually some distance away and not viewable as seen in the present work. It appears that Renoir, working from earlier studies and memory, dropped in the motif of the Tour Saint-François and the surrounding buildings.
“Renoir’s life was a display of fireworks to the end,” Jean Renoir wrote. “Although his palette became more and more austere, the most dazzling colors, the most daring contrasts issued from it. It was as if all Renoir’s love of the beauty of this life, which he could no longer enjoy physically, had gushed out of his whole tortured being. He was radiant...by which I mean we felt there were rays emanating from his brush, as it caressed the canvas... So he strode with giant steps toward that summit where mind and matter become one, knowing full well that no man can attain these heights. Each stroke of his brush...declared to the men of this century, already deep in their task of destruction, the stability of the eternal balance of nature” (ibid., p. 421).
Unlike Monet and Degas in their old age, Renoir’s eyesight was a keen as ever and he painted every day except Sunday. Matisse, a visitor to Les Collettes during late 1917 and early 1918, was astonished to see him creating “all his best work!” as he later declared. “The soul in him seemed to grow continually stronger and express itself with radiant ease” (quoted in F. Harris, Contemporary Portraits, Fourth Series, New York, 1923, p. 125).
Advised by the Bernheim brothers, Le vieux Nice, vu d’une fenêtre was acquired by the famed French stage actor Sacha Guitry in 1938. His third wife, Jacqueline Delubac, adored the work so much that Guitry later gifted it to her.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s house Les Collettes, Cagnes-sur-Mer.