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Femme nue couchée

Femme nue couchée
stamped with signature 'Renoir.' (Lugt 2137b; lower right)
oil on canvas
17 ¾ x 20 ¾ in. (45.2 x 52.7 cm.)
Painted in 1918
Estate of the artist.
Anon. sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 14 June 1989, lot 42.
Private collection, Japan (circa 1989); sale, Christie's, New York, 8 May 2013, lot 46.
Acquired at the above sale by Arnold and Anne Ulnick Gumowitz.
Bernheim-Jeune, ed., L'atelier de Renoir, Paris, 1931, vol. II, no. 673 (illustrated, pl. 211).
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Renoir: Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, 1911-1919, Paris, 2014, vol. V, p. 440, no. 4365 (illustrated).
New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, La Belle Époque, May-November 2021, p. 20.
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.

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Lot Essay

Throughout his career, the female nude was Pierre-Auguste Renoir's favorite studio subject, and his art as it is appreciated today is mainly synonymous with this theme. During the final decade of his life, while he and his family were living in the idyllic countryside at Cagnes-sur-Mer, painting the nude model became Renoir's virtual obsession. With their ripe expanses of velvety-soft flesh, these late nudes—some inhabiting a timeless arcadian landscape and others a sumptuously appointed interior—can seem first and foremost like fetishized receptors for the male gaze, endlessly available for visual consumption. Yet they are also portraits of the body's surface, translated into bold experiments in painting. The undulating movements of Renoir's brush echo the fullness of the model's form, and the thin layers of paint are built up to create a mobile, vibrating surface that suggests the quivering and radiant blush of living flesh. Associate curator Martha Lucy has written, "The nude was like a canvas on which Renoir could repeatedly explore his formal and theoretical interests, such as the relationship between color and light, surface and volume, and vision and touch" (Renoir in the Barnes Foundation, New Haven, 2012, p. 209).
The present painting depicts a young woman reclining on a daybed, naked except for a gold bracelet. Her body is curved into an S-shape, the swelling hips emphasized and thighs expertly foreshortened. The weight of her torso is supported against a floral-patterned pillow, while the ripples and furrows of her flesh as they absorb and reflect the light are equated to the folds of soft white fabric beneath her. The background of the painting is rendered as an abstract cascade of color, green and russet on the right (a velvet curtain, probably) and streaks of blue on the left (a view through a window). Renoir had explored the theme of the reclining woman in a boudoir setting on occasion in the mid-1890s and then in three monumental canvases from 1903-1907, the recumbent pose and languorous ambience conjuring up the Orientalist atmosphere of the harem odalisque (Dauberville, nos. 3502, 3509-3510; see Christie's, New York, 4 May 2010, lot 34). Now, the artist has re-worked the theme with the gold and cinnabar palette and translucent, layered tints of his final years, emulating the warm, shimmering surface of Titian's late figures. "That old Titian," Renoir joked. "He even looks like me, and he is forever stealing my tricks" (quoted in Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 278).
The young woman who posed for the present painting was Andrée Heuchling, known as Dédée to her friends. Gabrielle Renard, Renoir's favorite model for almost two decades, had been dismissed at the end of 1913 following a series of disputes with the artist's wife Aline. In early 1915, Renoir's friends in Nice recruited Andrée to pose for him, hoping that this "superb redhead" (to quote Albert André) would be the motivation that the ailing artist needed to continue his work. By one account, it was Henri Matisse who spotted the young girl on a train, declaring her "a perfect Renoir" before whisking her away to meet the elder painter (M. Lucy, op. cit., 2012, p. 201). The introduction was immediately successful. With her ample figure and ebullient personality, Andrée would prove the ideal model for Renoir in the last five years of his life, posing for more than a hundred paintings, including the artist's final masterwork, Les grandes baigneuses, 1918-1919 (Dauberville, no. 4303; Musée d'Orsay, Paris).
Renoir's son Jean recalled meeting Andrée at Les Collettes while he was on leave from the front during the First World War; the two would marry in 1920, the year after the artist's death. "She was sixteen years old, red-haired and plump, and her skin 'took the light' better than any model that Renoir had ever had in his life... Along with the roses, which grew almost wild at Les Collettes, and the great olive trees with their silvery reflections, Andrée was one of the vital elements which helped Renoir to interpret on his canvas the tremendous cry of love he uttered at the end of his life" (Renoir, My Father, New York, 1958, p. 426).

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