Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Property from the Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Jeune fille se peignant (La Toilette)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Jeune fille se peignant (La Toilette)
signed and dated 'Renoir. 94.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
21 ¾ x 18 ¼ in. (55.3 x 46.4 cm.)
Painted in 1894
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, 7 April 1894).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above).
Robert Lehman, New York (acquired from the above, 1 March 1930 and until at least 1962).
Private collection, New York (1974).
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, November 1981.
G. Rivière, Renoir et ses amis, Paris, 1921, p. 271 (illustrated, p. 233).
W. Gaunt, Renoir, London, 1952 (illustrated, pl. 68).
(possibly) H. Büneman, Renoir, Munich, 1959, p. 99.
M. Robida, Renoir: enfants, Laussane, 1959, p. 41 (illustrated in color; titled Jeune fille se peignant).
A. Bosman, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, New York, 1962, p. 88 (illustrated in color, p. 59).
C. Hayes, Renoir, London, 1967 (illustrated in color, pl. 34).
M.-P. Fouchet, Les nus de Renoir, Lausanne, 1974, p. 171 (illustrated, pl. 34; titled Jeune fille se coiffant).
M. Leymaire, Renoir, Paris, 1971, no. 65 (illustrated in color; titled Jeune fille se peignant).
J. Lassaigne, Les Ménines, Fribourg, 1973, p. 40 (illustrated).
S. Lesberg, Impressionism, New York, 1974 (illustrated in color).
N. Harris, A Treasury of Impressionism, New York, 1979, p. 245 (illustrated in color).
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Renoir: Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, 1992-1894, Paris, 2009, vol. II, p. 348, no. 1250 (illustrated; titled La Toilette).
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Paintings by Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, December 1915, no. 16.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., A Loan Exhibition of Renoir for the Benefit of the New York Infirmary, March-April 1950, p. 44, no. 66.
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, La collection Lehman de New York, May-September 1957, p. 58, no. 76 (illustrated, pl. XXXVI).
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Renoir, April-May 1958, p. 68, no. 54 (with incorrect dimensions).
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Master Paintings, October-November 1981, p. 14, no. 6 (illustrated in color).
Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, The Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass, March-May 2015, p. 56, no. 27 (illustrated in color on a frontispiece; illustrated again in color, p. 57; titled Young Girl Combing Her Hair).

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Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming Pierre-Auguste Renoir Digital Catalogue Raisonné, currently being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

“I have taken up again, never to abandon it, my old style, soft and light of touch,” Renoir wrote to his dealer Durand-Ruel in 1888, full of enthusiasm for his latest efforts. “This is to give you some idea of my new and final manner of painting—like Fragonard, but not so good” (quoted in J. House, Renoir in the Barnes Foundation, New Haven, 2012, p. 121).
This approach—which represented a sea-change after the controversial, Ingres-inspired method that Renoir had cultivated in the previous decade—plainly informs the present painting, a softly brushed boudoir scene depicting a young woman who gently combs her waist-length, golden tresses. The model is clad in a simple white chemise with a slight sheen, which slips from her shoulders to reveal an expanse of creamy skin that catches the light as it enters from the left. A portion of her pink skirt is also visible as well, the rosy hue echoing the delicate bloom on her cheeks and lips. Although the model’s identity is unknown, her youthful, rounded features conform closely to Renoir’s preferred type during the 1890s, softer and more idealized than the naturalistic young grisettes or working girls whom he had portrayed during his Impressionist heyday. “For me, a painting should be something pleasant, joyous, and pretty,” he now insisted, “yes, pretty!” (ibid., p. 16).
The theme of the woman styling her hair, and more broadly that of Jeune fille se peignant (La Toilette), has an illustrious artistic lineage dating back to Renaissance vanitas portraits, in which the woman in front of a mirror, gazing at her own image, joins the viewer in treating herself as an object of visual pleasure. In Renoir’s day, various avant-garde painters pressed into service this time-honored motif to critique the artifice of modern life. Manet’s Nana, for instance, depicts a contemporary Parisian courtesan who ostentatiously adorns herself under the scrutiny of a top-hatted client; Seurat, in Jeune femme se poudrant, presents a tightly corseted woman seated before an array of cosmetics from which she constructs her public image. Renoir, in contrast, portrays such preparations as pleasurable rather than obligatory, liberating rather than constraining. The model’s cheeks are naturally flushed, her hair tumbles freely over one shoulder, and her expression is one of gentle reverie.
“The ostensible theme,” John House has written, “is self-adornment and women’s preoccupation with appearances; but the vision that is being realized is of course Renoir’s own: while the model prepares herself for display, she displays herself to the painter, who posed her thus, and to the viewer of the picture” (Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 282).
The private ritual of hair-combing would also have carried a strongly sensual, even fetishistic charge for nineteenth-century viewers, as Renoir was well aware. The motif features in Ingres’s Orientalist harem fantasy, Le bain turc (1862), and in the naturalistic brothel imagery of Toulouse-Lautrec; Japanese woodblock prints show women in the pleasure-houses of old Edo tending their manes, and the Goncourts’ novel La fille Elisa (1877) includes a scene of two prostitutes brushing each other’s hair. When Renoir’s colleague Degas turned to the theme in the 1880s, he subverted these provocative connotations, presenting the act of hair-combing as one of the most banal and wearisome of daily routines, associated with personal hygiene as much as glamour. Renoir, for his part, staked out a middle ground, delighting in the extravagantly long and undone hair of his models—an emblem of their femininity—but eschewing overt eroticism in favor of a hushed and dreamy intimacy.
In the present scene, the young woman gazes out of image to the left, seemingly unaware of the artist’s scrutinizing presence. Her luxuriant mane, glinting in the light, occupies nearly the full height of the canvas, recalling the poet Mallarmé’s paean to female beauty: “A kind of madness, original and naïve, a golden ecstasy, I don’t know how to describe it! Which she calls her hair” (“Le phénomène futur,” 1891; quoted in A. Distel, Renoir, New York, 2010, p. 276). The model’s profile, pale and luminous, stands out against the darker ground, which suggests a subtly variegated velvet curtain cloistering the boudoir space. The harmonious, integrated palette of warm tones—cream, pink, taupe, olive, and gold—as well as the uniformly soft touch of Renoir’s caressing brush heighten the effect of a private, self-contained world.
The “new and final manner” that Renoir described to Durand-Ruel was an immediate success, ushering in a decade of mounting prosperity and long-awaited fame for the artist. In 1890, just shy of his fiftieth birthday and secure at last that he could support a family, Renoir married Aline Charigot, his long-time companion and the mother of his young son Pierre. “I’m in demand again on the market,” he wrote to the collector Paul Berard. “If nothing happens to disturb my work, it will go like clockwork” (quoted in B.E. White, Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 189). In 1892, the French State purchased Renoir’s Jeunes filles au piano for the Musée Luxembourg, a mark of official recognition that the artist himself counted as one of his crowning achievements.
The younger generation of critics and artists also embraced Renoir’s recent work. His idealized young girls, with their air of timelessness, appealed to Symbolist proclivities, suggesting an essential meaning beneath external appearances. “An idealist? No. A naturalist? If that’s what we want to call him,” wrote the Nabi painter Maurice Denis, the most vocal theoretician of his cohort. “Renoir has limited himself to translating his personal emotions, the entirety of nature and the entirety of dream, with methods personal to him. He has composed with the pleasures of his eyes wonderful bouquets of women and flowers. And since he is large of heart and strong of will, he has created only beautiful things” (“Notes d’art et d’esthétique,” La Revue Blanche, June 1892; quoted in A. Distel, op. cit., 2010, p. 289).

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