Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Property from the Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Portrait de Jeanne Samary

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Portrait de Jeanne Samary
signed 'Renoir' (lower left)
pastel on paper
23¾ x 18¼ in. (60.3 x 46.4 cm.)
Executed circa 1879-1880
Tadamasa Hayashi, Tokyo and Paris; sale, American Art Association, New York, 8-9 January 1913, lot 86.
Alexander Morton, New York.
Ralph M. Coe, Cleveland (acquired from the above, 1916).
Ralph T. Coe, Cleveland (by descent from the above, 1959).
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Renoir, Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, 1858-1881, Paris, 2007, vol. I, p. 602, no. 641 (illustrated).
Kansas City, Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum, Kansas City Collects: a selection of works of art privately owned in the greater Kansas City area, January-February 1965, no. 21 (illustrated).
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art and Kyoto Municipal Museum, Exposition Renoir, September-December 1979, no. 88 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

The present portrait depicts Jeanne Samary, who was one of the most celebrated actresses at the Comédie-Française when she first sat for Renoir in 1877 (fig. 1). Over the next three years, Renoir depicted Samary in no fewer than eight oils and four pastels, more than any other single sitter. She has also been identified as the model for the fashionable young woman in the top right corner of Le déjeuner des canotiers, one of Renoir's most ambitious multi-figure genre paintings (Daulte, no. 379; Dauberville, no. 224; Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.). Renoir and Samary most likely met at the salon gatherings of the publisher Georges Charpentier and his wife Marguerite, which brought together the leading painters, actors, and writers of the time. The support and influence of the Charpentiers, especially the charismatic Marguerite, were crucial during the late 1870s in establishing Renoir as a successful portraitist to wealthy Parisians. Renoir himself wrote to Georges Charpentier in 1878 or 1879, "If one day I succeed, it will be entirely thanks to her, because I would most certainly have been incapable of doing so on my own" (quoted in Renoir's Portraits: Impressions of an Age, exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1997, p. 161). Although Renoir disliked the acting at the Comédie-Française and rarely attended performances there, he was quite fond of Samary, whose fame in her day rivaled that of Sarah Bernhardt. Georges Rivière recalled that no portrait ever gave Renoir greater satisfaction than the ones he painted of Samary, and the artist himself described her in a letter to Théodore Duret as "la petite Samary, who delights women, but men even more" (quoted in ibid., p. 155). Samary, in turn, lamented, "Renoir is not the marrying kind. He marries all the women he paints, but with his brush" (quoted in N. Wadley, ed., Renoir: A Retrospective, New York, 1987, p. 34).

Jeanne Samary was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1857 into one of France's most celebrated stage families. Her maternal grandmother was Suzanne Brohan, the greatest comédienne of Louis-Philippe's reign, and her aunts Augustine and Madeleine Brohan were two of the most formidable actresses of the Comédie-Française. Samary herself entered the Conservatoire in 1871 when she was just fourteen. She won the first prize for comedy in July 1875 and made her stage debut with the Comédie-Française the following month as Dorinne in Molière's Tartuffe. She excelled at playing saucy, flirtatious serving girls and rose quickly through the ranks of the theater, becoming a full member (sociétaire) of the Comédie-Française in January 1879, two months shy of her twenty-second birthday. In November 1880, at the height of her fame, she married Marie-Joseph Paul Lagarde, the son of a wealthy stockbroker who opposed the match and initiated (unsuccessful) legal proceedings to prevent the wedding from taking place. Just ten years later, Samary succumbed to typhoid fever at the age of thirty-three. More than two thousand mourners, including the staff of all the theaters in Paris, attended her funeral at the Eglise Saint-Roch in Paris.

Renoir first painted Jeanne Samary in early 1877, producing two oil portraits that show her bust-length against a background of flickering, multi-colored brushstrokes. The same year, he also made a pastel portrait of the actress and portrayed her on a pair of plaster medallions (Daulte, nos. 230-231; Dauberville, nos. 461, 463, and 644). In the earlier of the two oil portraits, Samary is dressed simply in a dark blue dress with a white collar buttoned to the neck; the palette of the painting is somber, and Samary's expression is reticent (Daulte, no. 228; Dauberville, no. 460; Comédie-Française, Paris). In the second portrait, by contrast, the actress is clad in a low-cut evening gown with a corsage of roses, her chin propped coquettishly in the palm of her hand (Daulte, no. 229; Dauberville, no. 462; fig. 2). Although Samary was renowned for her boisterous, infectious laugh and the hint of coarseness and vulgarity that she brought to her performances, Renoir chose to depict her as a demure, alluring young woman--the quintessential "star". Colin Bailey has described this version, which Renoir included in the Third Impressionist Exhibition in April 1877, as "resolute and audacious, indeed among the most ravishing of all Renoir's Impressionist portraits... Painted with a parrot-colored palette, it conveys the glamour that we now associate automatically with celebrities of the stage... in a way that no other theatrical portrait of his time succeeds in doing" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1997, p. 158).

In 1878, Renoir painted another three portraits of Samary. Two of these repeat the bust-length format of the 1877 examples (Daulte, nos. 262 and 264; Dauberville, nos. 435 and 466), while the third--the most ambitious of all Renoir's portraits of the actress--represents her full-length in a ball gown and white gloves, posed in an elegant interior that suggests the foyer of the Comédie-Française (Daulte, no. 263; Dauberville, no. 381; fig. 3). Frustrated by bad press and poor sales, Renoir ceased to exhibit at the Impressionist group shows in 1878 and again tried his luck at the official Salons. In 1879, he was represented at the Salon by two large society portraits: the full-length portrait of Samary and one of Madame Charpentier with her two children (Daulte, no. 266; Dauberville, no. 239; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Both are more highly finished, more muted in palette, and more formal in composition than the portraits of the same sitters that Renoir had exhibited at the 1877 Impressionist Exhibition, suggesting that Renoir had tailored them to the taste of the Salon jury and audience. Bailey has commented, "Renoir's decision to paint Mademoiselle Samary full-length... was calculated to draw attention to his skills as a celebrity portraitist. It was one of the many effigies of fashionable young actresses that routinely appeared at the Salon, and it was exhibited the same year as Bastien-Lepage's acclaimed portrait of Sarah Bernhardt" (ibid., p. 8). Renoir's submissions to the 1879 Salon were well-received in the press and led to an increasing number of portrait commissions, which allowed the artist to travel extensively in the early 1880s. Pissarro reported to the collector Eugène Murer, "Renoir is having great success at the Salon. I think he is launched, so much the better, poverty is so hard" (quoted in B.E. White, Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 88).

Following his success at the 1879 Salon, Renoir made at least three more portraits of Jeanne Samary, all pastels, including the present example (see also Dauberville, nos. 642 and 1438; sold, Christie's, London, 25 June 1990, lot 12, and Christie's, New York, 7 November 2001, lot 409). The present pastel is noteworthy for its portrayal of Samary in semi-déshabillé, with one strap of her white chemise slipping off her shoulder to reveal the top of her right breast. Such indecorous attire is unusual in Renoir's portraits, recalling instead the artist's plentiful genre paintings of the 1870s, which represent young, working-class girls from Montmartre in provocative or alluring poses. Renoir's depiction of Samary in this fashion may be a reference to the saucy soubrettes whom she most often portrayed on stage, or it may reflect the casual intimacy that characterized his friendship with the actress, who lived just a short distance from his studio. Renoir also rarely employed pastel for his formal portrait commissions, reserving the medium for works in which the sitters were friends or family. François Daulte has explained, "If he frequently used that medium to depict those near and dear to him, it was because pastel, which combines color with line, gave him the possibility of working rapidly to capture in all their vividness the rapid flash of intelligence and the fleeting show of emotion" (Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Watercolors, Pastels, and Drawings in Color, London, 1959, p. 10). In the present example, the delicate treatment of Samary's pearly, iridescent skin contrasts with the bold, densely applied strokes of pastel that make up the background. The bright blue that frames the figure of Samary is echoed in the shadows on her skin and dress, and even more notably, in her distinctive, wide-eyed gaze.

The first owner of the present pastel was Tadamasa Hayashi, one of the earliest ambassadors of Japanese culture in France and the chief commissioner of the Japanese government to the Paris World's Fair of 1900. Hayashi arrived in Paris in 1878 to interpret for the art dealer and curator Kenzaburô Wakaï at that year's Exposition Universelle. In 1883, he opened a shop selling ukiyo-e prints and other traditional forms of Japanese art, which quickly became one of the most important places in Paris (along with Samuel Bing's gallery) to see such works. In 1886, Hayashi compiled a double issue of the periodical Paris illustré devoted to the arts of Japan; the image on the cover was a print by Keisai Eisen, which Van Gogh freely adapted in oil the following year (De La Faille, no. 373; Hulsker, no. 1298; Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam). Hayashi met many of the Impressionists through his work as a dealer and became particularly close to Monet, who had begun collecting Japanese woodcut prints as early as 1856 and owned more than two hundred examples by the end of his life. Hayashi, in turn, assembled his own collection of Impressionist paintings, including works by Monet, Degas, Pissarro, and Renoir, and in 1893 organized the first exhibition of Impressionist art in Japan. The sculptor Albert Bartholomé, who probably met Hayashi through Degas, made a portrait of the Japanese connoisseur in 1892, which took its inspiration from Noh theater masks. A bronze cast of this work was exhibited at the Salon in 1894, and Degas himself owned a plaster version. The present portrait of Jeanne Samary was included in a sale of Hayashi's collection in 1913, seven years after his death, and was acquired shortly thereafter by Ralph M. Coe.

(fig. 1) Jeanne Samary, circa 1877. Bibliothèque de la Comédie-Française.

(fig. 2) Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Rêverie (Portrait de Jeanne Samary en buste), 1877. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.

(fig. 3) Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jeanne Samary, 1878. State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

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