This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue critique of Pierre-Auguste Renoir being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute, as established from the archives 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.
Throughout his career, one of Renoir's favorite themes was the visual pageantry of the everyday world, exemplified by the portrayal of young girls clad in elaborately decorated hats. In addition to formal society portraits, he frequently painted anonymous models in this way, focusing on their youthful appeal and stylish adornment. This type of imagery was a mainstay of Renoir's work in the 1870s (see Lot 69), but disappeared from his repertoire for several years starting around 1883, when his preoccupation with the depiction of l'Éternel feminin led him to eschew any reference to contemporary life in his figure paintings. In the 1890s, he returned to the image of the fashionably dressed young woman, sometimes isolated against a broadly brushed background and other times inserted into scenes of daily sociability, such as the bourgeois household and the theater. John House has written, "His most often repeated subject of the 1890s 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 the artist found a real market in the 1890s, particularly with Durand-Ruel" (Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 251). Even when Durand-Ruel tried to persuade Renoir to stop painting girls in elaborate hats, since these had gone out of fashion, the painter persisted, citing 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 G. Adriani, Renoir, exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Tübingen, 1996, p. 204). Shortly after 1900, however, Renoir again abandoned the depiction of fashionable modern attire; the draped figures from his final two decades are clad instead in classicizing or vaguely exotic garb.
Femme au chapeau fleuri, which depicts a young woman wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat adorned with exuberant red blossoms, exemplifies Renoir's contemporary costume pieces of the 1890s. The broken, Impressionist brushwork of the 1870s has been replaced by solid modeling and a clearly defined silhouette; the pose is reserved and decorous, with none of the provocative undertones that sometimes characterize Renoir's earlier genre paintings. Barbara Ehrlich White has written, "Gone are the romance and flirtation of Renoir's bachelor years; now he celebrates the stability and comfort of middle-class life" (Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 208). Rather than a genuine likeness of a known sitter, the painting depicts an anonymous model whose physiognomy is made to conform to Renoir's ideal type, with rounded features, a rosy complexion, and full lips. Only the heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes and straight nasal bridge (in place of the upturned snub nose that Renoir usually favored) lend the painting an element of physiognomic specificity. The same figure type--softer and more idealized than the naturalistic grisettes, or young working women, that Renoir painted during the 1870s--appears in Jeunes filles au piano from 1892 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), the first painting by Renoir that the French government purchased and a milestone in the artist's official recognition and mounting fame.