Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Femme à la fenêtre avec sur le vieux Nice

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Femme à la fenêtre avec sur le vieux Nice
stamped with signature 'Renoir.' (Lugt 2137b; lower left)
oil on canvas
22 1/8 x 16½ in. (56 x 42 cm.)
Painted in 1918
Estate of the artist.
Galerie Schmit, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, by 1990.
Bernheim-Jeune, ed., L'Atelier de Renoir, Paris, 1931, vol. II, p. 245, no. 663 (illustrated, pl. 208).
Paris, Galerie Schmit, De Corot à Picasso, May-July 1985, no. 47 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

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.

The amalgamation of interior and exterior space in a single composition is rare in Renoir's work: here he has depicted an attractive young woman engaged in a domestic chore, as she sits before a large window with a full view of the place Saint-François and its landmark clock tower in the vieille ville of Nice. In his final years Renoir suffered from severe 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. It is likely then that this interior is the glazed studio he had constructed on the grounds near his home. The old quarter of Nice was actually some distance away and not viewable as seen here--it appears that Renoir, working from earlier studies and memory, dropped in the motif of the Tour Saint-François and the surrounding buildings.

The seated model is Andrée Heuchling (variously spelled Hessling), known as "Dédée" to her friends. Gabrielle Renard had been a loyal and indispensable member of the Renoir household, as well as the artist's favorite model and studio assistant, since 1895 (see lot 35). Renoir's wife Aline nevertheless dismissed Gabrielle at the end of 1913, following a series of disputes. Gabrielle returned to help care for the artist following Mme Renoir's sudden death from a heart attack in 1915, but she was then in her mid-thirties, married and no longer suited Renoir as a model. Madeleine Bruno, a local girl, occasionally posed and would continue to do so. Recruited by Renoir's friends in Nice, Andrée arrived at the Renoir household in early 1915. The painter Albert André hoped that this "superb redhead" would prove to be an ideal model and the motivation the ailing artist needed to continue his work. Jean Renoir, the artist's second son, who was serving as an aviator during the First World War, recalled first meeting Andrée at Les Collettes while he was on leave from the front:

"She was sixteen years old, red-haired and plump, and her skin 'took the light' better than any model that Renoir had ever had in his life. She sang, slightly off-key, the popular songs of the day; told stories about her girl friends; was gay; and cast over my father the revivifying spell of her joyous youth. Along with the roses, which grew almost wild at Les Collettes, and the great olive trees with their silvery reflections, Andrée was one of the vital elements which helped Renoir to interpret on his canvas the tremendous cry of love he uttered at the end of his life" (Renoir, My Father, New York, 1958, p. 426).

This painting is Andrée's story. While serving as a visually interesting compositional device, the window and exterior view are more significantly an integral part of a pictorial narrative in which Renoir recounts Andrée's passage as a young girl from her home in Nice into the artist's domain at Les Collettes. The scene describes her role in Renoir's art, while the open window is finally a reminder of the larger, outer world into which she would inevitably journey as a mature young woman. Andrée's ample, Rubens-like figure featured prominently in more than a hundred paintings that Renoir executed from 1915 until his death in 1919. She and Madeleine modeled for the two reclining nudes in the artist's final masterwork, Grandes baigneuses, 1918-1919 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris). As it turned out, Andrée did eventually leave Les Collettes, but not the Renoir family: in 1920 she married Jean, who went on to become one of the most famous film directors of the twentieth-century.

(fig. 1) Renoir and Andrée Heuchling, Les Collettes, Cagnes-sur-Mer, 1915. Collection Durand-Ruel.

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