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

La loge ou Jeunes femmes au théâtre

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
La loge ou Jeunes femmes au théâtre
signed 'Renoir.' (upper right)
oil on canvas
18 ¼ x 21 5/8 in. (46.1 x 55 cm.)
Painted in 1908
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, 9 August 1909).
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 19 March 1912).
Jacques Laroche, Paris (acquired from the above, 18 April 1912).
Gaston Bernheim, Paris (acquired from the above, 11 January 1917); sale, Lausanne, 31 December 1917.
Anon. sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, 2 April 1979, lot 22.
J.P.L. Fine Arts, London (acquired at the above sale).
Robert C. Guccione, New York (by 1994).
Acquired by the present owner, 2002.
Bernheim-Jeune, ed., Le Bulletin de la Vie Artistique, Paris, 15 September 1923, p. 376 (illustrated).
T. Duret, Renoir, Paris, 1924 (illustrated, pl. 35).
G. Coquiot, Renoir, Paris, 1925, p. 192 (illustrated).
W. Gaunt, Renoir, Paris, 1952 (illustrated, pl. 91).
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Renoir, Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, Paris, 2012, vol. IV, p. 272, no. 3142 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, June 1910, no. 52.
Høvikodden, Norway, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter, Impresjonismen 100 ar, November 1974-January 1975, p. 5, no. 12 (illustrated).
Nassau County Museum of Art, From Botticelli to Matisse: Masterpieces of the Guccione Collection, January-March 1994, p. 85 (illustrated in color).
Nassau County Museum of Art, La Belle Epoque, June-September 1995, p. 91 (illustrated in color, p. 21).
Sale room notice
This Lot is Withdrawn.

Please note that 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 François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein.

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

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 François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein.

This sumptuous vision of two young women in a loge, resplendent in diaphanous, gold-trimmed finery and adorned with luxuriant pink roses, represents Renoir’s culminating statement on the grand theme of the theater, which had served him as a fruitful source of inspiration for over three decades. In the Impressionist heyday of the 1870s, he painted the theater as a space of modern urban spectacle, a prime venue for contemporary Parisians to see and be seen. During the 1890s, he eschewed the gendered and lightly erotic overtones that informed these earlier loge scenes, but continued to depict the theater as a setting for bourgeois sociability and the display of fashionable modern costume. In the present painting, by contrast, the opulent space of the theater has become just one element among many in the sensuous pictorial ideal that Renoir tirelessly sought in his final decade. “The rhymes and echoes between the objects create a series of metaphorical associations [that] celebrate a set of interrelated values: the physical splendor of young women; the richness of materials and gilded surfaces; the lavishness of flowers,” John House has written. “The elements all combine to express youth, growth, beauty, and color–the vision of an earthly paradise” (Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 290).
Renoir first painted the theater in the mid-1870s, producing a half-dozen scenes that represent the loge as a venue where women were pervasively, even primarily, on public display. House lights typically stayed on throughout the performance during this period, a practice of which Renoir whole-heartedly approved: “They’ve no right to shut people up in the dark for three solid hours,” he insisted. “I might want to look at a pretty woman sitting in a box. For me, there’s just as much of a show in the audience” (quoted in J. Renoir, Renoir: My Father, Boston, 1962, p. 189).
The iconic La Loge of 1874, which Renoir included in the First Impressionist Exhibition, makes manifest this quintessentially modern visual discourse (Dauberville, no. 262; Courtauld Institute Galleries, London). The woman in the foreground, clearly adorned for a night out, gazes toward the viewer, her opera glasses resting unused in her lap. Her male companion, in contrast, seated less conspicuously at the rear of the loge, raises his binoculars to look upward and across the theater, in a voyeuristic gesture that mirrors the type of looking that seems to have generated this very composition, with its close-up and slightly elevated perspective. “From the stage to the auditorium, from the wings to the stage, and from one side of the auditorium to the other,” the Goncourt brothers tellingly wrote in their Journals around this time, “invisible threads criss-cross between dancers’ legs, actresses’ smiles, and spectators’ opera-glasses, presenting an overall picture of pleasure, orgy, and intrigue” (quoted in R. Kendall and G. Pollock, eds., Dealing with Degas: Representations of Women and the Politics of Vision, New York, 1991, p. 100).
After abandoning modern-life themes around 1883 to focus on l’éternel feminin, Renoir returned to the imagery of the theater during the following decade as he painted an extended sequence of canvases that depicted the innocent recreations of rosy-cheeked, bourgeois girls (Dauberville, nos. 1015 and 2040; sale, Christie’s, New York, 6 May 2008, Lot 19). Renoir now opted to depict the loge, like Cassatt did, as a principally feminine realm, with men relegated to the very edge of the composition. The female occupants are no longer construed as passive objects of the male gaze (Renoir himself has even adopted an intimate vantage point inside the loge itself), but rather as active spectators, observing the activities on the stage with rapt attention. Although this transformation in Renoir’s treatment of the loge largely reflects his own evolving pictorial interests, from the naturalistic grisettes and flirtatious exchanges of the Impressionist period to the softer, more idealized figures of his maturity, it also signals changes in the practice of theater-going, as women became more frequent and independent spectators at performances, attending alone or in groups. “Friends could enter a loge to visit and take refreshment,” Judith Barter has pointed out, “making it almost an extension of the domestic salon” (Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman, exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago, 1998, p. 47).
These earlier images of the theater provide the context for the present Loge, a symphony in pink and gold, which Renoir painted in 1908. This exquisite canvas, which Durand-Ruel eagerly purchased from the artist within a year of its creation, depicts two young women–one fair and one dark, but both with the rounded cheeks, bee-stung lips, and upturned snub nose of Renoir’s ideal type–seated close together in a theater box, their ample figures overlapping. A fragment of a fluted gilt pilaster at the left, a bit of gold-toned curtain beside it, and the soft red background (likely velvet) are sufficient to establish the opulence of the setting. The model in the center of the composition, with glossy orange tresses, pale green eyes, and flushed ivory skin, has not been identified; the chestnut-haired young woman at the right is the high-spirited Gabrielle Renard, Renoir’s favorite sitter and an indispensable member of his household from 1895 until 1913. “An extremely beautiful brunette–charming and intelligent,” the dealer Gaston Bernheim de Villers described Gabrielle. “When you arrived for luncheon, you were almost certain to find Renoir painting her” (Little Tales of Great Artists, New York, 1949, pp. 77-78).
Renoir spent almost the whole of 1908 in the hilly countryside outside Cagnes, first in a rented villa and then at Les Collettes, which would be his home–and the physical embodiment of his ideal pictorial vision–from that fall until the end of his life. He left the south of France for only for a few weeks in summer, to visit his son Pierre in Paris and his wife Aline’s family at Essoyes. Although an evening at the Opéra during his stay in the capital may have inspired him to take up the theme of the loge for one last time, he surely painted the present scene back home in his studio. It is not a captured moment, a snippet of modern life, but rather a timeless, radiant vision of feminine beauty; the theater setting has become a pretext for Renoir to indulge his caressing brush, its narrative associations stripped away. Although the models gaze out of the canvas to the left, ostensibly toward the stage, their expressions are tranquil and distant, their postures still. Their youthful splendor is equated with that of the rose blossoms–perhaps plucked from the bushes that grew wild at Les Collettes–that they wear in their hair and pinned to their clothes; their cheeks are flushed with the same pink hue, and their billowing, chiffon draperies are like the petals of a flower.
Renoir has underscored this equation of female and floral beauty through his unified treatment of the paint surface itself, with its narrow chromatic range and overall decorative patterning. Colors are warm and heightened–principally pink, red, and gold, with touches of blue and green added sparingly for contrast–and translucent, layered strokes are built up with remarkable assurance to create a mobile, almost vibrating surface. Renoir has turned his back here on direct visual experience in order to express the idyllic vision of his great valedictory years: “One must always embellish,” he emphatically told Bonnard (quoted in T. Hyman, Bonnard, London, 1998, p. 67).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, La Loge, 1874. The Courtauld Gallery, London.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Au théâtre, la loge, 1894. Sold, Christie’s, New York, 6 May 2008, Lot 19.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gabrielle à la rose, 1911. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Tilla Durieux, 1914. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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