This work will be included in the critical catalogue of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's paintings being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute.
Dating from 1867, Portrait de Lise (Lise tenant un bouquet de fleurs des champs) is an elegant and important painting by one of the father's of Impressionism, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The picture shows his favourite model of the period, Lise Tréhot, who is also assumed to have been his mistress for a period of around seven years, during which he painted more than a dozen likenesses of her, among them some of his most celebrated early works, many of which are now in museum collections throughout the world. It is a testimony to the personal importance of this picture that it remained in the hands of Jules Le Coeur (or Lecoeur), one of Renoir's best and most influential friends of the period and the man who had introduced him to Lise, as she was the sister of Jules' own mistress, Clémence.
During the early 1860s, Renoir had been a student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he was taught by Charles Gleyre. Within a short time, Renoir had befriended several fellow students there who would come to be key in the development that his painting, and indeed modern painting itself, would take: Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Frédéric Bazille. This group of four rebelled against Gleyre's insistence that nature had nothing to teach an artist, and accordingly Renoir came to paint more and more in the forest of Fontainebleau and other such areas where he could lose himself in the woods. Portrait de Lise and its sister work, Lise, now in the Folkwang Museum, Essen both show his model walking in almost the same clothes at Chailly, in the forest of Fontainebleau. During this time, Renoir would often stay with the family of Jules Le Coeur who, after training as an architect, had decided to become a painter. The pair would stay at Jules' parental home in Marlotte. It was during one of these trips, almost certainly in 1865, that he met Lise, who immediately came to populate many of Renoir's paintings.
Lise, who was the daughter of a former postmaster and was born in Ecquevilly, came to be Renoir's muse during this crucial period of his development. Jules and Renoir would often stay with her family, although reportedly Clémence was not even known about by the Le Coeurs. Lise provided a vital impetus for him, becoming the first celebrated woman in the works of one of the most celebrated painters of women. Likewise, the entire Le Coeur family helped him in many ways, extending friendship, hospitality and even commissions. The importance of the family's friendship is reflected in the range of portraits that Renoir executed of them in varying formal and informal situations. In terms of his exposure to the art world, Jules' brother Charles, an architect, was bold enough and kind enough to commission Renoir to paint decorative pictures for the Paris home he was building for Prince Georges Bibesco, resulting in a lasting friendship that likewise had a great effect on the artist's future success.
In Portrait de Lise, there is a tenderness, a Chardin-like air of intimacy and contemplation that is accentuated by the model's inspection of the flowers; a similar ambience is evoked in Lise cousant, now in the Dallas Museum of Art. This speaks of the relationship between painter and model. Intriguingly, Douglas Cooper has pointed out that she is even wearing the same earrings in both of these works and the Folkwang painting. The fact that the painting was owned by Jules, who remained attached to Clémence until his death in 1882, also tells of the relationship, as perhaps does the fact that Renoir never painted her, and reportedly never saw her, after her marriage to another architect (and friend of Jules), Georges Brière de l'Isle.
In terms of both his love of landscape and his depictions of women as creatures of flesh and blood, rather than the porcelain-like figures that peopled so many of the more Academic pictures of the age, Renoir showed a profound reverence for Gustave Courbet, whom he met during his trips to Fontainebleau, alongside other painters such as Corot and even Cézanne. The influence of Courbet is clear in Portrait de Lise; indeed, where the Folkwang Museum painting showing her holding an umbrella is considered to be a reference, or homage, to the central figure of Courbet's Demoiselles de village, Lise's pose here shows clear affinities with the right-hand woman in Courbet's picture.
Following his departure from Gleyre's class, Renoir worked alongside Monet and Bazille (in whose studio both impoverished artists lived). Together, they began to forge the path that would lead to Impressionism, and it is telling that the pose of Portrait de Lise shows such affinities to Monet's own Camille, now in the Kunsthalle, Bremen, painted the previous year; in 1868, Zacharie Astruc had said that the Folkwang Museum painting of Lise formed a trinity of the modern woman alongside Camille and Manet's Olympia. Portrait de Lise clearly belongs to the same group.
Zola perfectly captured this new aesthetic, reviewing Lise in the Salon of 1868, as he wrote, 'She is one of our women, or rather, one of our mistresses, painted with great frankness and a timely research into the modern world' (E. Zola, quoted in N. Wadley (ed.), Renoir: A Retrospective, New York, 1987, p. 60).
It was on the occasion of the 1868 Salon that the larger sister-painting of Portrait de Lise had resulted in Renoir's first critical acclaim; this came after a crucial hiatus. While he had exhibited in the Salons of 1864 and 1865, though to little notice, in 1866 his palette, the increasing freedom of his brushwork and the modernity of his themes-- all of which are clearly apparent in Portrait de Lise-- had veered enough from established taste that two of his three submitted works had been refused (a third was subsequently withdrawn). In 1867, the year that Portrait de Lise was painted, he submitted a nude showing his favourite model, thinly veiled as a classical subject. Diane chasseresse was rejected, as were works by Bazille, Cézanne, Monet, Pissarro and Sisley. This resulted in a petition demanding a Salon des Réfusés, which was likewise rejected. Seven years later, these same artists (apart from Bazille, who fell in battle during the Franco-Prussian War) would reunite in what is now considered the First Impressionist Exhibition.
It is telling of the quality of Portrait de Lise that, in 1924, it entered the collection of the famous designer Jeanne Lanvin -- a tribute to the female grace and elegance that the picture so perfectly captures. It remained in her hands until her death, before passing to her daughter, the Comtesse Jean de Polignac, a patron of the arts, who often wore the dresses designed by her mother. She would often hold concerts, of which the great Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí would recall: 'In Spring it was very pleasant at Comtesse Marie-Blanche de Polignac's, where from the garden one listened to string quartets played in the interior, all aflame with candles and the Renoir paintings.'