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Nu au fauteuil

Nu au fauteuil
signed 'Renoir' (lower left)
pastel on paper
24 3⁄8 x 20 5⁄8 in. (61.8 x 52.2 cm.)
Drawn circa 1885-1890
Ambroise Vollard, Paris (acquired from the artist, by 1907).
Rose-Marie Kanzler, Detroit.
Private collection, Switzerland (December 1990).
Hammer Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, July 2010).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, December 2010.
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Renoir: Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, 1911-1919, 1er Supplément, Paris, 2014, vol. V, p. 536, no. 04495 (illustrated).
A. Eiling, ed., Renoir: Rococo revival, exh. cat., Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 2022, p. 89 (illustrated in color, fig. 8).
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum and Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art, Monet and Renoir: Two Great Impressionist Trends, November 2003-May 2004, p. 85, no. 50 (illustrated).
New York, Hammer Galleries, Renoir, November 2010-January 2011, pp. 24-25 (illustrated in color, fig. 5).
Fort Lauderdale, NSU Art Museum and Chattanooga, Hunter Museum of Art, William J. Glackens and Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Affinities and Distinctions, October 2018-September 2019, pp. 63 and 135, no. 5 (illustrated in color, pl. 5).
Williamstown, Clark Art Institute and Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Renoir: The Body, The Senses, June 2019-January 2020, p. 105, no. 38 (illustrated in color).
Further details
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.

Lot Essay

Renoir’s Nu au fauteuil an exceptionally large, colorful pastel on paper—belongs to a series of works depicting voluptuous bathers from the late 1880s. Unlike many of his Impressionist colleagues, Renoir remained fascinated by the nude female body throughout his long career; he returned repeatedly to the subject in pencil, chalk, pastel and oil. In the words of Berthe Morisot, Renoir’s friend and fellow painter and pastellist, “the nude seemed to him to be one of the most essential forms of art” (quoted in J. House, “Renoir, Between Modernity and Tradition,” Renoir in the Barnes Foundation, New Haven, 2012, p. 10).
This scene is one of simple, pretty pleasure. The model who posed for Nu au fauteuil was a curvaceous brunette who arranged her hair in a casual chignon. Renoir observed her from behind, seated upon a plush red armchair with a loosely-rendered gold fringe. The woman appears to have just emerged from her bath; leaning against the back of the chair with one arm, she reaches down with the other to dry her lower left leg with a white linen towel. The bather is fully absorbed in the sensual act of caressing her own body; in this way, her gesture echoes the pigmented touch of the artist, sketching the outline of her figure. As Colin B. Bailey has observed, the theme of ‘touch’ unites much of Renoir’s oeuvre: “When looking broadly across his career, it is striking how consistently Renoir’s bathers are shown engaged in the performance of touch. Figures rarely sit with hands resting in laps, but are instead shown fondling towels and silky fabrics, burying their hands in their hair, or running fingers through water...Renoir seems to cue tactile desire at every turn” (op. cit., exh. cat., 2019, p. 105).
Beyond its erotic subject matter, Nu au fauteuil demonstrates Renoir’s mastery of the velvety medium of pastel: powdered pigments suspended in a sticky binder of gum arabic, rolled into individual sticks. Pastel enabled the artist to literally draw with color, and to quickly convey the color, texture and volume of both fabric and flesh. In this richly-worked sheet, subtle strokes of gray convey the shadowy topography of the figure’s back, while a panoply of blues, greens and yellows form the background. This abstract mirage likely stands for an idyllic natural landscape into which Renoir might later insert his bather, perhaps in a larger oil-on-canvas painting. Such a setting is visible, for example, in Renoir’s self-proclaimed masterpiece Les grandes baigneuses, now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Renoir completed this large-scale painting—depicting a group of nude bathers cavorting in a paradisiacal pool of water—between 1884 and 1887, around the same time period that he executed the present work.
Renoir’s pastel bathers also invite comparison with those of his fellow Impressionist, Edgar Degas, who similarly produced a series of the same subject in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Degas’s pastel bathers, however are twisted, hunched figures observed from unexpected angles; their sharp, sinewy forms are further animated by electric shocks of purple and orange. In this sense, Degas’s awkward demoiselles differ significantly from Renoir’s plump nude bathers, who elegantly and effortlessly bathe themselves. Renoir’s approach towards his pastel compositions underscores his allegiance to the 18th and 19th century French tradition of rendering the female nude. Nu au fauteuil, in particular, reveals Renoir’s study of the woodland nymphs of François Boucher and the odalisques of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

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