Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Jeune homme à la cravate rouge, portrait d'Eugène Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Jeune homme à la cravate rouge, portrait d'Eugène Renoir
signed 'Renoir' (lower right)
oil on canvas
26 x 21 3/8 in. (65.5 x 54.3 cm.)
Painted in 1890
Galerie Renou & Colle, Paris.
Galerie Benédite, Paris.
Stephen Hahn, New York.
Alex Maguy, Paris.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 26 June 2001, lot 122.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
F. Daulte, Auguste Renoir: catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. I, Les figures (1860-1890), Lausanne, 1971, no. 633 (illustrated).
Lyon, Musée de Lyon, Palais Saint-Pierre, Renoir, 1952, no. 25 (illustrated).
Arles, Musée Réattu, Renoir, August - September 1952, no. 13 (illustrated fig. 4).
Marseille, Musée Cantini, Renoir, peintre et sculpteur, June - September 1963, no. 38 (illustrated).
Special notice
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
Sale room notice
Please note that the Wildenstein Institute have confirmed the authenticity of this painting and will include it in the their forthcoming Renoir catalogue critique being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute and established from the archive funds of François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein.

Please note that Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville have confirmed that this work is included in their Bernhem-Jeune Archives as an authentic work.

Lot Essay

Painted in 1890, Jeune homme à la cravate rouge is one of the rare examples of the single male portrait in Renoir's oeuvre. Of the 645 figure paintings reproduced in Daulte's 1971 catalogue raisonné, fewer than fifty represent single adult male portraits. Of those, twelve are incomplete studies. Renoir very seldom painted male subjects. Those he did choose to paint were often close to him, and are depicted with considerable sensitivity and psychological insight. Several portray members of his family. This picture has traditionally been identified as the painter's nephew, Eugène, an identification proposed by Daulte. Paul Renoir, Renoir's grandson, owned extensive family archives, and confirmed in writing before his death that the sitter was the artist's half-Russian nephew Eugène. In summer, he would visit the Renoir family home where Paul met him. Interestingly, Daulte reproduces no male portraits between the mid 1880s and 1890. This rare and touching tribute of 1890 records Renoir's deep affection for his noble, eccentric, supremely calm and courageous half-Russian nephew.

Eugène was born in 1863, in Russia, and died in 1941. He was recalled with evident fondness by Renoir's son Jean, the celebrated film director, in his biography Renoir, My Father (Boston, 1964, pp. 275-278). There, he describes Eugène's imperturbable, eccentric nature, his self-assurance and quiet strength; he also reveals the family's deep affection for him - aspects Renoir has vividly conveyed in this sensitive, subtly powerful portrait.

Describing Eugène's origins, Jean wrote:

'It may be remembered that Uncle Victor became a tailor. A Russian grand duke was so pleased with the jackets he had made for him that he took my uncle back to Russia with him, where he married and had a son called Eugène, who my father maintained was more Russian than the Russians. Victor became a fashionable tailor in Saint Petersburg, made money, bought himself a two-horse Victoria for the summer, a sleigh for the winter, and a country house. He covered his wife with jewels. She was the soul of indolence, for she rarely got up from her chaise longue, and fed entirely on liqueur chocolates', which, according to Jean, was responsible for her demise. Victor continued to squander his fortune and had to return to France with Eugène. After Victor's death,

'My mother took [Eugène] in hand and set about finding some occupation for him. Although still young, he had, after seeing his mother reposing day in and day out on her couch, sworn to follow her example and never lift his hand to do a stroke of work. My mother tried to make him feel ashamed. She pointed out that a boy of eighteen, in good health and with a good education, should earn his living. The appeal to his self-respect failed, however, whereupon she tried to frighten him with the spectre of poverty. But he shook his head, smiled with an expression of gentle stubbornness, and in his drawling, slightly nasal voice, said, 'My dear Aunt, I have sworn never to work, and I don't intend ever to work.' He added that the prospect of becoming a tramp had not terrors for him. When she found that her arguments were of no avail, she had a brilliant idea: put him in the army! She didn't wait to see what his reaction to this suggestion would be, but marched him off to the Pepinière Barracks and made him sign up for five years.'

This career in fact suited Eugène perfectly. He prospered, soon reaching a rank that involved some level of command although he 'refused to attend an officers' training course because the effort involved was against his principles of professional laziness.' Jean goes on to explain the charms and effects of army life on his cousin:

'Except for a few skirmishes, minor battles and military landings, which rather amused him, Eugène spent the greater part of his time in the army improving a network of roads in the jungle. Lying in a hammock, not in the least disturbed by the pickaxes or the shouts of those working under his orders, he languidly encouraged the cohorts of coloured troopers to sweat away for the glory of Western civilization. His subordinates worshipped him because he never raised his voice when giving orders.'

'He was very courageous; and paradoxically enough his laziness added to his courage.' While in Indo-China, he bravely and apparently peaceably lived in a hut that he shared with a cobra, an arrangement that had particular benefits, as Eugène himself explained: 'As a room-mate he was no trouble at all. On the contrary, with him around there wasn't a rat to be seen. I could hear them scuttle when he would come back in the evening. He moved into the beams over my bed. We looked each other in the eye for a minute, and I blew out the lamp. In the morning, when he went out again, the noise of his movements served as an alarm-clock.' This courage was put to more dramatic effect when he re-enlisted at the outbreak of the First World War. Jean recounts that he 'fought under General Mangin's command. He took part in several bayonet-charges, and was wounded at Verdun. I still have his Military Medal, the most distinguished of the French decorations - or at any rate the only one that still amounts to something.'

In civilian life, Eugène found a position that seemed to perfectly suit him.

'In addition to Russian and French, Eugène spoke Mandarin Chinese fluently, as well as Cantonese, Annamite, and several Indo-Chinese dialects. When he left the army, one of his friends made him the sales representative for the whole of Siberia of a well-known brand of champagne. He loved travelling about in a sleigh. 'If you are well wrapped up in furs you don't get cold and you can sleep.' But he had to sell his product to his customers - and 'that is work,' so he gave up his lucrative job.'

In Jeune homme à la cravate rouge, Renoir wonderfully captures his nephew's calm and steadfast character, a serenity that is also reflected in Renoir's superb treatment of the mirror reflecting the daylight and the curtain veil wafting across the doorframe, as well as in the swirling pearl-grey tones of Eugène's jacket, his vibrant red tie and white collar. All accentuate the stillness and calm of Eugène's steadfast character, and his composed, immovable presence. His serene, fearless gaze holds us.

Eugène's hands are painted with great care. They convey his gentle strength and almost indolent calm and provide an important focus for the painting. Hands were an obsession with Renoir, and he observed them very closely when meeting people. According to Jean, Renoir believed that a person's true character could be discerned in the hands rather than the eyes; '"When I [Renoir] think that I might have been born into a family of intellectuals! It would have taken me years to get rid of all their ideas and see things as they are. And I might have been awkward with my hands." He talked constantly of "hands". He always judged people he saw for the first time by their hands. "Did you see that fellow, and the way he tore open his packet of cigarettes? He's a scoundrel. And that woman: did you notice the way she brushed back her hair with her forefinger... a good girl." He would also say sometimes: "stupid hands"; "witty hands"; "ordinary hands"'.

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