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

Jeune fille dans les fleurs or Femme au chapeau blanc

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Jeune fille dans les fleurs or Femme au chapeau blanc
signed 'Renoir.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 21 3/8 in. (65.1 x 54.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1895
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Robert de Galéa, Paris (by descent from the above).
Private collection, Paris (by 1964).
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1990.
A. Vollard, Tableaux, pastels et dessins de Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paris, 1918, vol. 1, p. 98, no. 393 (illustrated).
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Renoir, Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, Paris, 2010, vol. III, p. 279, no. 2193 (illustrated).
Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts, La femme et l'artiste de Bellini à Picasso, May-September 1964, p. 86, no. 138 (illustrated, p. XLVIII, pl. 46; titled La dame au chapeau blanc).
Tokyo, Galerie Tokyu, La collection Ambroise Vollard, September 1972, no. 7 (illustrated in color; titled La femme en blanc).
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art and Kyoto, Municipal Museum, Renoir, September-December 1979, no. 53 (illustrated in color).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

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

Throughout his career, one of Renoir's favorite themes was the visual pageantry of the everyday world, exemplified by the portrayal of young women in elegant costume and elaborate hats. In addition to formal society portraits, he frequently painted anonymous models in this way, focusing on their youthful appeal and stylish adornment. This type of imagery was a mainstay of Renoir's work in the 1870s, but disappeared from his repertoire for several years starting around 1885, when his preoccupation with the depiction of l'éternel féminin led him to eschew any reference to contemporary life in his figural scenes. In the 1890s, he returned to the image of the fashionably dressed young woman, sometimes isolated against a broadly brushed background, other times positioned in a landscape or inserted into scenes of daily sociability, such as the bourgeois household and the theater. John House has written, "His most often repeated subject of the 1890s was the fashionable modern costume piece--figures of girls, often wearing fancy hats, some head and shoulders, some half length, some full length, with single figures or pairs. It was with pictures such as these, it seems, that the artist found a real market in the 1890s, particularly with Durand-Ruel" (Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 251).

Renoir's interest in women's fashion, especially millinery, is well-documented. Suzanne Valadon, who posed for the painter intermittently in the mid-1880s, recalled in her memoirs that he had a particular weakness for women's hats and had them made to order for his sitters. In a letter dated 1880 to an unidentified model, Renoir wrote, "Come to Chatou tomorrow with a pretty summer hat. Do you still have that big hat that you look so nice in? If so, I'd like that, the gray one, the one you wore in Argenteuil" (quoted in G. Adriani, Renoir, exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Tübingen, 1996, p. 204). In 1878, he painted his favorite model at the time, Marguerite Legrand, seated in a milliner's shop, anticipating Degas' celebrated series on the subject (Daulte, no. 274; Dauberville, no. 238; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts). The following year, he proposed to Madame Charpentier, one of his most important early patrons, that her husband feature the fashions of the week on the last page of the journal that he published, La Vie Moderne: "We could make an arrangement with milliners and seamstresses--one week for hats, the next for dresses, etc. I would visit them so that I could do the necessary drawings from different angles on site" (quoted in ibid., p. 181).

Renoir's penchant for elaborate hats persisted into the latter years of the century. In 1895, Julie Manet recorded in her diary that the artist had shown her "a portrait of a model with a ravishing hat made of white muslin with a rose on it, which he himself had made" (quoted in M. Lucy and J. House, Renoir in the Barnes Foundation, New Haven, 2012, p. 245). Jeanne Baudot, Renoir's informal pupil at the time, recalled that Durand-Ruel tried to persuade Renoir in the late 1890s to begin depicting his sitters bare-headed, since the fashion for hats was waning, but the painter rejected the dealer's advice, citing his taste for "beautiful fabrics, shimmering silks, sparkling diamonds--though the thought of adorning myself with them is horrifying! So I am grateful to others when they do so--provided I am permitted to paint them" (quoted in G. Adriani, op. cit., p. 204).

Femme au chapeau blanc depicts a young, dark-haired woman wearing a broad-brimmed hat ornamented with white flowers or plumes, a fashionable dress with a ruffled collar and voluminous sleeves, and elegant white gloves. Her costume is given such prominence that it appears to be Renoir's primary subject, occupying nearly half of the surface area of the canvas. House has written, "The hats seem to be as much the focus of attention as the women who wear them. It seems that the extravagant, cursive forms of these hats and the elaborate decorations on them acted as some sort of fetishistic substitute for the bodies of the women who were wearing them" (op. cit., p. 245). The model is seated on a bench against a dense wall of flowers and foliage, recalling Manet's 1879 Salon submission Dans la serre (Rouart and Wildenstein, no. 289; fig. 1) and Renoir's own portraits of Durand-Ruel's children from 1882 (Daulte, nos. 409-411; Dauberville, nos. 967, 1003, and 1059; fig. 2; see also the 1882 portrait of Madame Léon Clapisson among the roses: Daulte, no. 428; Dauberville, no. 1044). Unlike Renoir's numerous canvases from the 1890s of young women relaxing in the countryside, which have a timeless, idyllic mood reminiscent of the fêtes champêtres of eighteenth-century French painting, Femme au chapeau blanc reads first and foremost as an image of contemporary leisure--of an elegant bourgeois woman enjoying the pleasures of a secluded, private garden.

The painting also draws a parallel between the beauty of the garden and that of the young model. The full, rounded forms of the blossoms in the background are repeated in the lavish ornamentation of her hat and the billowing of her sleeves, while the ruffled collar creates the effect of petals framing her face. The composition is painted in a rich, unified palette of pinks, greens, and creams, with touches of opalescent white where the fabrics catch the light. The rosy bloom in the model's cheeks echoes the vivid hue of the flowers around her, while the freely brushed pattern on her dress reads almost as a garden in miniature. In contrast to Renoir's outdoor scenes of the 1870s, where the figures tend to dissolve into the dappled sunlight, the young woman here stands out clearly against the darker colors of the background, her contours at once supple and clearly defined.

The identity of the model for Femme au chapeau blanc remains uncertain. She appears slightly stronger-featured and more mature than either of Renoir's two favorite sitters from the mid-1890s: Gabrielle, who joined the artist's household in 1894 as a teenaged governess to his infant son Jean, and Germaine, whom Renoir depicted in Spanish dress playing the guitar in 1896-1898. Either one of them, however, may have provided a starting point for Renoir, who never hesitated to alter his models' appearance to suit his pictorial ends. He explained to the painter Albert André, "How difficult it is in a picture to find the exact point at which to stop copying nature. The painting must not smell too strongly of the model, but at the same time, you must get the feeling of nature. A painting is not a verbatim record... The most important thing is for it to remain a painting" (quoted in Renoir in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2009, p. 67). Most often, Renoir made his models conform on canvas to a generic, ideal type, painting them with soft, rounded cheeks, full, bee-stung lips, and an upturned, snub nose. Here, however, he has taken the image in a different direction, adding an overlay of physiognomic distinctiveness that is unusual in his subject paintings of anonymous sitters (note the square jaw and hairline, the wide mouth, and the strong brows).

Although there is no evidence that the present canvas is a portrait of a particular individual as opposed to a more generalized image of female beauty and adornment, the heightened specificity with which Renoir has rendered his model's features suggests that he may have intended to blur the boundaries between portraiture and genre painting. The model, moreover, is shown full-face, meeting the viewer's eye with a steady gaze that conveys a sense of intelligence and active agency. While this is not uncommon in Renoir's portraiture (fig. 3), his genre paintings more often depict their stock young models looking downward, staring into the distance, or even with their faces partially averted from view (fig. 4). Renoir experimented intermittently during the 1890s with bridging the divide between these two modes of painting, most notably in two portraits of Yvonne and Christine Lerolle, which depict named sitters in their real home, but show them absorbed in the sort of everyday activities--playing the piano and sewing--that we associate more readily with genre painting (Dauberville, nos. 2039 and 2071; Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, and Columbus Museum of Art). In Femme au chapeau blanc, Renoir appears to have borrowed from the conventions of portraiture to enliven one of his most popular and oft-repeated subjects, the modern costume piece--"trying at once to avoid the benign universals of genre and to refuse the proper name of portraiture," to quote Leila Kinney ("Genre: A Social Contract" in Art Journal, vol. 46, Winter 1987, p. 268).

The first owner of the present painting was Ambroise Vollard, one of three principal dealers (along with Durand-Ruel and Bernheim-Jeune) to whom Renoir sold his work after 1900 and a key figure in the final years of the artist's life. Following Vollard's death in 1939, the present painting passed into the collection of Robert de Galéa, the son of Vollard's long-time mistress Madeleine. In 1912, Renoir had painted a portrait of Madame de Galéa in sumptuous attire, half-reclining on an ornate Rococo settee (A. Vollard, op. cit., vol. 1, no. 616). Although the portrait required fifty or more sittings in exceptionally hot weather, Renoir took great delight in it: "I pay dearly for the pleasure I get for this canvas; but it is so satisfying to give in entirely to the sheer pleasure of painting" (quoted in A. Vollard, Renoir: An Intimate Record, Mineola, New York, 1990, p. 113).

Renoir in Paris, 1895. Photograph by Martial Caillebotte. BARCODE: 28854715

(fig. 1) Edouard Manet, Dans la serre, 1879. Nationalgalerie, Berlin. BARCODE: 28854654

(fig. 2) Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Marie-Thérèse Durand-Ruel cousant, 1882. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. BARCODE: 28854661

(fig. 3) Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Madame Gaston Bernheim de Villers, 1901. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. BARCODE: 28854722

(fig. 4) Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Femme au gant, circa 1893-1895. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. BARCODE: 28854678

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