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

Gabrielle au miroir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Gabrielle au miroir
signed ‘Renoir.’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 25 ½ in. (81.1 x 64.7 cm.)
Painted circa 1910
Josse and Gaston Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the artist, 1910).
Bignou Gallery, Inc., New York (acquired from the family of the above, 25 September 1947).
Sam Salz, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, February 1951.
O. Mirbeau, Renoir, Paris, 1913 (illustrated on a frontispiece).
Bernheim-Jeune, ed., L’Art moderne et quelques aspects de l’art autrefois, Paris, 1919, vol. II (illustrated, pl. 136).
(possibly) W.H. Wright, Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning, New York, 1927, p. 127.
A. André, Renoir, Paris, 1928 (illustrated, pl. 73).
A. Basler, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paris, 1928, p. 59 (illustrated).
J. Meier-Graefe, Renoir, Leipzig, 1929, p. 328, no. 349 (illustrated, p. 343).
G. Besson, Renoir, Paris, 1938, no. 39.
G. Bernheim de Villers, Petites Histoires sur de Grands Artistes, Paris, 1940, pp. 85-86.
C. Terrasse, Cinquante portraits de Renoir, Paris, 1941 (illustrated, pl. 41).
E. Piceni, Auguste Renoir, Milan, 1945 (illustrated, pl. XXXIV).
W. Gaunt, Renoir, London, 1952 (illustrated, pl. 95).
F. Fosca, Renoir: L'homme et son oeuvre, Paris, 1961, p. 221 (illustrated).
H. and J. Dauberville, La Bataille de l'Impressionnisme: suivi de "En encadrant le siècle," Paris, 1967, p. 576 (illustrated in situ in the residence of Gaston Bernheim de Villers and Josse Bernheim).
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, pp. 10, 43-44 and 170, no. 53 (illustrated in color, p. 171; illustrated in situ in the Rockefellers' home in Pocantico Hills, p. 36).
J. Cowart and D. Fourcade, Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986, pp. 241-242 (illustrated in situ in the Bernheims' homes, figs. 14-15).
D. Rockefeller, Memoirs, New York, 2002, p. 446.
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Renoir: Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, 1911-1919 et supplément, Paris, 2014, vol. V, p. 404, no. 4306 (illustrated, p. 405).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Renoir, March 1913, p. 64, no. 52 (illustrated in color on a frontispiece; titled La Femme au miroir and dated 1913).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Tableaux, Pastels, Dessins par Renoir, November-December 1920, no. 37.
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Renoir, January 1933, p. 51, no. 121 (titled Gabrielle au miroir (Odalisque à la toilette)).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Renoir: Portraitiste, June-July 1938, no. 36.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Art in Our Time, May-September 1939, no. 54 (illustrated).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1939-1947 (on extended loan).
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Collector's Choice: Masterpieces of French Art from New York Private Collections, March-April 1953, p. 56, no. 22 (illustrated).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Paintings from Private Collections, May-September 1955, p. 34, no. 128 (illustrated, p. 10).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Masterpieces from the David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Manet to Picasso, June-September 1994, pp. 8, 18-19, 34 and 75 (illustrated in color, p. 35; dated 1910).
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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.

Between 1907 and 1911, Renoir painted several canvases that depict Gabrielle Renard, the principal model and muse of his late years, loosely clad in a semi-transparent white chemise that falls open to reveal her ample form. The most elaborate and fully realized of these paintings show Gabrielle at her toilette—a theme with an illustrious 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 the present canvas, Gabrielle is seated at a small mirrored dressing table, languorously adjusting a scarf in her hair; in a closely related scene, she holds a jewelry box in her lap and pins a single rose blossom in her hair (Dauberville, no. 4152).
“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 Gabrielle 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).
During the preceding decades, various avant-garde painters had pressed into service the time-honored vanitas 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 corseted woman before an array of cosmetics from which she constructs her public image. Renoir, in contrast, delights in the play of self-adornment, presenting it as liberating rather than constraining. Gabrielle’s cheeks are naturally flushed, her hair escapes the scarf in soft tendrils, and her gown is loose and flowing. Under Renoir’s caressing brush, the image of Gabrielle at her toilette becomes a pretext for the lavish display of finery in an opulent boudoir interior, enveloped in a vaporous atmosphere of ruddy interior warmth.
“In pictures like this,” House continues, “the rhymes and echoes between the objects create a series of metaphorical associations; all become part of a single chain of connections, and all celebrate a set of interrelated values: the physical splendor of young women; the richness of materials and gilded surfaces; the lavishness of flowers. Painting becomes a vehicle for suggesting the correspondence of the senses, and in this fantasy the elements all combine to express youth, growth, beauty, and color—the vision of an earthly paradise” (ibid., p. 290).
Gabrielle, a distant cousin of Renoir’s wife Aline, had joined the household in 1894 as the governess to the couple’s infant son Jean and quickly became an indispensable member of the family, as well as the artist’s studio assistant and favorite model. During the ensuing two decades, Renoir depicted Gabrielle reading, sewing, or caring for children; as a washerwoman in the French countryside and a Roman goddess in The Judgment of Paris; and very frequently as an object of erotic desire, as here. Gaston Bernheim de Villers described Gabrielle as “an extremely beautiful brunette—charming and intelligent. When you arrived for luncheon you were almost certain to find Renoir painting her, either in the nude or wearing transparent oriental robes” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1994, p. 75).
In the present scene, Gabrielle is clad much as Bernheim described—in a vaguely exotic-looking gown, with a sash and head scarf that add an overtly non-Western overtone to the ensemble. During the 1870s, Renoir had painted several ambitious Orientalist studio scenes, including a free and somewhat risqué transposition of Delacroix’s masterpiece Les femmes d’Alger. “There isn’t a finer picture in the world,” the artist later told Vollard of Delacroix’s original. “How really Oriental those women are—the one who has a little rose in her hair for instance!” (quoted in Renoir in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2009, p. 294). In Renoir’s version of this erotically charged harem scene, two women assist a central figure at her toilette, one holding up a small mirror and the other a hairpin and silver necklace—preparing her for display, like Gabrielle in the present scene. In 1881-1882, Renoir followed in the footsteps of Delacroix and went to Algeria to paint, the only one of the Impressionists ever to experience this fabled region first-hand.
Although Renoir never again traveled outside of Europe, he re-visited Orientalist themes in his work repeatedly during the last decade of his career. North Africa was more fashionable than ever in France by this time, recalling the taste for Japonisme a generation earlier, and a new group of young avant-garde artists had begun to explore the region—most notably Matisse, who voyaged to Algiers and Biskra in 1906. In 1909, the year before he painted Gabrielle au miroir, Renoir created a pair of large decorative panels for Maurice Gangnat, which depict dancing girls—Gabrielle with castanets, the ginger-haired Georgette with a tambourine—in sumptuous, Algerian-inspired costume. Between 1915 and 1919, after Gabrielle had left the household, he repeatedly posed his new model Dédée in a silk brocaded vest (a ghlila), a sheer white chemise, and a gold-colored turban. This is the ensemble, minus the vest, that she wears in his last major subject painting, Le Concert, a glowing testament to the artist’s lifelong affirmation of sensual beauty.
In these valedictory scenes, the colorful foreign garments do not create an authentic ethnographic reality, as in traditional Orientalist painting, but rather represent one component of the aging artist’s deeply personal, idyllic vision. “Forms dissolve into a generalized, dream-like evocation far removed from direct observation,” Ann Dumas has noted (Renoir’s Women, exh. cat., Columbus Museum of Art, 2006, p. 66). Instead of reinforcing his models’ exotic costume with the corresponding props of a harem interior, as he had during the 1870s, Renoir now posed them incongruously in an overtly French Rococo studio environment. In the present canvas, for example, Gabrielle sits at a gilded oval guéridon with a matching mirror; in other paintings, the interior space features flowered wallpaper, vases full of roses, or a European tea set. The effect is to undermine the viewer’s expectations, reminding us that the work is not a representation of reality, but an artificial pictorial world.
“Working with models upon a stage—with anchors in physical reality firmly fixed before his eyes—Renoir was able to break with reality, to create a world that could exist only in the studio and in his paintings,” Claudia Einecke has explained. “Paradoxically, it is precisely the material triggers of Renoir’s late costume pictures—the real models, the real furniture, the real costumes—that sent his imagined world to another register, one that is neither pure reality nor pure imagination, but the hybrid he described as his goal. In their dual nature as both representation and construct, these paintings offer a world that is particular unto itself. A world that only belongs to art” (exh. cat., op. cit., 2009, p. 67).
These studio masquerades were a key source of inspiration for Matisse, nearly thirty years Renoir’s junior. Matisse met the Impressionist painter in late 1917, during his first winter’s stay on the Côte d’Azur, and visited him frequently at Cagnes until Renoir’s death two years later. In the context of the post-war rappel à l’ordre, Renoir’s return to an Orientalist iconography represented an affirmation of French tradition, providing a living link with Delacroix as well as the Ingresque tradition of studio Orientalism. Moreover, as Kirk Varnedoe observed, “Renoir’s canon of female beauty seemed to embody a special marriage between classicizing idealism and a distinctly modern, specifically French sense of sophisticated pleasure” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1994, p. 34).
When Matisse began his own series of odalisques in 1919, he followed Renoir’s venerable example by posing his favorite models in the intimate surroundings of his studio with no pretense at a plausible ethnography of costume or setting. In Odalisque à la culotte rouge, for example, the model reclines on a striped chaise longue before panels of floral fabric that Matisse mounted on portable wooden frames, creating a private pictorial theater. “In his own act of homage to the deceased Renoir, Matisse took up, continued, and ‘completed’ one of the master’s preferred final subjects,” Roger Benjamin has written. “Even as his life was drawing to a close, Renoir was once again showing younger painters the way forward” (Renoir and Algeria, exh. cat., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2003, p. 117).
The first owners of the present painting were the dealers Josse and Gaston Bernheim-Jeune, who acquired it from Renoir in 1910 and kept it for their personal collection. The canvas was exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in New York during the summer of 1939 and remained in storage there throughout the Second World War and was subsequently sold to the Bignou Gallery. On the recommendation of MoMA’s curator Alfred Barr, Jr., Peggy and David Rockefeller acquired the picture in 1951, their first purchase of a major Impressionist canvas. “It is a very beautiful painting which we have enjoyed first in our home in New York City,” David Rockefeller wrote (M. Potter et. al, op. cit., 1984, p. 43).

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