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

Baigneuse accoudée

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Baigneuse accoudée
signed 'Renoir' (lower left)
oil on canvas
21 3/8 x 15 7/8 in. (54.3 x 40.3 cm.)
Painted in 1882
Arsène Alexandre, Paris; his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 19 May 1903, lot 51.
Gabriel Cognacq, Paris, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (no. 14080), by whom acquired from the above on 15 March 1905.
Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, by whom acquired from the above.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (no. 14419), by whom acquired from the above on 7 July 1905.
Julius Stern, Berlin; his sale, Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin, 19-21 May 1916, lot 80.
Alfred Hausammann, Zurich, and thence by descent to the present owner.
V. Pica, Gl'Impressionisti Francesi, Bergamo, 1908, p. 99.
T. Duret, Die Impressionisten, Berlin, 1913, p. 175 (illustrated).
F. Daulte, Auguste Renoir, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. I, Lausanne, 1971, no. 398 (illustrated).
G.P. & M. Dauberville, Renoir, Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, vol. II, 1882-1894, Paris, 2009, no. 1324, pp. 395-96 (illustrated p. 396).
Winterthur, Kunstmuseum, Europaïsche Meister 1790-1910, June - July 1955, no. 163.
Schauffhausen, Museum zu Allerheiligen, Die Welt des Impressionismus, June - September 1963, no. 115.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, on loan, 1969.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, From Manet to Gauguin: Masterpieces from Swiss Private Collections, June - October 1995, no. 60 (illustrated; dated '1890-1895').
Tokyo, The Sezon Museum of Art, The Matsuzakaya Art Museum, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from Swiss Private Collections, October 1995 - March 1996, no. 52.
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Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas
Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue critique of Pierre-Auguste Renoir being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute
established from the archives of Franois Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein.

'[Renoir] has been exquisitely attentive and sensitive in his rendering of the clear, happy eyes of a child, the red mouths of women, the dazzling harmony of flowers... Furthermore, he placed them in lovingly conceived settings, under tender greenery, where rays of sunlight play and shatter in reflections, or else among personal finery and rare ornaments which he has embellished with his colour - or, lastly, intoxicated and almost hesitant, in a setting richer still, though indeterminate: in hazy atmospheres all shimmering with gold, emeralds and rubies' (Arsène Alexandre, quoted in N. Wadley, ed., Renoir: A Retrospective, New York, 1987, p. 183).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted Baigneuse accoudée in 1882, making it an early example of what was to become perhaps Renoir's best known theme, the naked woman. Baigneuse accoudée was formerly in the collections of such distinguished figures as the writer and critic Arsène Alexandre and the German banker Julius Stern, and featured in early publications dedicated to the Impressionists at the beginning of the twentieth century, as well as a number of important post-war exhibitions. A sister picture in the Musée Marmottan in Paris painted in the same year shows a number of similarities in pose and composition; that related work was formerly owned by Renoir's friend and fellow artist, Claude Monet.

Looking at Renoir's career now, it is hard to believe that he had turned so seldom to the subject of the nude which he was to make so much his own. As Sir Kenneth Clark observed, 'Everyone who writes about Renoir refers to his adoration of the female body, and quotes one of his sayings to the effect that without it he would scarcely have become a painter. The reader must therefore be reminded that until his fortieth year his pictures of the nude are few and far between' (K. Clark, The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art, London, 1956, p. 154). Baigneuse accoudée was painted in his forty-first year and therefore dates from this watershed in his treatment of the subject.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Renoir had occasionally tackled the subject of the female nude, as had the great pathfinder and godfather of Impressionism, Edouard Manet, for instance in his 1863 Déjeuner sur l'herbe; Baigneuse accoudée bears marked similarities to the figure on the left in Manet's controversial picture, perhaps revealing a homage and certainly illustrating the two artists' shared interest in using and bending to new purposes the archetypes of classical and academic art. In that vein, Renoir's early nudes included his image of the goddess Diane chasseresse of 1867, which was refused by the Salon that year and which is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, as well as a Baigneuse which was painted (and accepted in the Salon) in 1870. During the height of his involvement in Impressionism, Renoir had painted Etude, which was shown in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876; in that picture of a female nude, the body and the background were treated in such a way that there was no sense of hierarchy: the woman was rendered using similar ripples of light and colour as the foliage behind her.

Already that year, when Renoir painted Femme nue entourée de vêtements, now in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, the artist could be seen to be introducing a more sculptural, Ingresque sense of monumentality to the female body, despite maintaining an evenness of the treatment of the light falling on her body and on the heaped materials in the background. This revealed the seeds of a development that would come to mark many of the most important nudes of Renoir's career, which he painted from 1881 onwards. It was that year, travelling through Italy, that Renoir enjoyed revelation after revelation, not least when he saw Raphael's frescoes in Rome and the ancient wall paintings of Pompeii in the museum in Naples. Struck by the informal grace and beauty of these images, but also by the sense of monumentality with which they were often imbued, Renoir turned to the subject of the nude with renewed vim. This first came to the fore in Baigneuse, his painting of a glowingly healthy Aline, whom he would later marry, by the sea. Now in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, that picture shows Renoir clearly focussing on the woman in the foreground; the backdrop is there for atmosphere only. Renoir claimed to have painted the picture outdoors, in a boat in the Bay of Naples. It was to provide a watershed: from this point onwards, the bather was to become one of his main subjects.

Baigneuse accoudée dates from the year after the Clark picture was painted. Here, the backdrop is clearly a landscape, yet a resolutely indeterminate one that accords with the description given by Arsène Alexandre, the first owner of the picture, of 'hazy atmospheres all shimmering with gold, emeralds and rubies.' The focus is again entirely upon the woman herself who, in contrast to the tenets espoused by Renoir's Impressionist friends, is shown as the primary source of interest, rendered with an exquisite sensuality of sweeping brushstrokes. Crucially, the indistinct background also ensures that there are no clues to the time in which this painting has been set. Contemporary Paris, which had formerly been so eagerly celebrated by Renoir in his pictures of women sporting the fashion of the day, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the artist has evoked a timeless world that is not hampered by anchors to a particular era. Instead, the theme of the bather can be seen as classical or modern. Renoir explained his fascination with Raphael and Pompeii in terms that clearly apply to Baigneuse accoudée:

'I was tired of the skill of the Michelangelos and the Berninis: too many draped figures, too many folds, too many muscles! I like painting best when it looks eternal without boasting about it: an everyday eternity, revealed on the street corner: a servant girl pausing a moment as she scours a saucepan and becoming a Juno on Olympus' (Renoir, quoted in J. Renoir, Renoir, My Father, London, 1962, p. 208).

Elsewhere, Renoir explained that, 'The simplest subjects are eternal. A nude woman getting out of the briny deep or out of her bed, whether she is called Venus or Nini, one can invent nothing better' (Renoir, quoted in M. Raeburn, ed., Renoir, exh. cat., London, 1985, p. 263). In Baigneuse accoudée, Renoir has shown a woman sitting on rocks, harkening back to classical sculpture, yet has imbued the figure with an earthy immediacy.

The theme of the nude would continue to preoccupy Renoir for the rest of his career. However, it was during the 1880s that he explored it in a revolutionary manner, attempting to reconcile his love of Ingres and of line -- concepts that he had essentially abandoned in the light-driven treatments of his Impressionist period -- with modern painting. The result of this would be his so-called Grandes baigneuses, completed in 1887 and now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In that picture, he combined a sense of monumentality with that of line; this was a development that he would hitherto abandon in favour of a freer, more painterly treatment that can be seen as a reversion to the manner of Baigneuse accoudée and which was still in evidence in the similar Baigneuse s'essuyant le pier gauche ou Femme nue dans un paysage of 1883, now in the Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, which apparently features Suzanne Valadon as the model.

It is a mark the importance of Baigneuse accoudée that not only was its sister-picture owned by Monet, but that this picture itself was owned by Alexandre, an influential writer who would come to write the preface for an exhibition of Renoir's work in 1892, the first occasion when the French State acquired one of his pictures. It was also Alexandre who, as a friend of Renoir's, advised him to accept the Légion d'honneur (see S. Monneret, L'Impressionnisme et son époque: Dictionnaire international, vol. I, Paris, 1987, pp. 4-5). It subsequently formed a part of the celebrated collection of the banker Julius Stern, who was a leading supporter of modern art in his native Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century. His collection would come to include an array of masterpieces by artists such as Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh, many of which now grace the walls of international museums; his portrait was also painted by Max Liebermann.

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