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Sur la falaise

Sur la falaise
signed and dated 'Renoir.79.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
21 ¼ x 25 5⁄8 in. (54.1 x 65.1 cm.)
Painted in Pourville in 1879
Victor Chocquet, Paris.
Marie Chocquet [née Buisson], Paris, by descent from the above circa 1891; her estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1 July 1899, lot 92.
Isidore Montaignac, Paris, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Delasalle, Paris.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, by whom acquired from the above on 10 September 1908 (no. 16749).
Hugo Nathan, Frankfurt am Main, by whom acquired from the above on 24 December 1908.
Martha Nathan, Geneva, by descent from the above in 1922.
Fritz Nathan, St. Gallen, by whom acquired from the above via Georg Ludwig Dreyfus in September 1946, and thence by descent to the present owners.
G. Swarzenski, 'Die Sammlung Hugo Nathan' in Kunst und Kunstler: Illustrierte Monatsschrift für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe, vol. XV, no. 3, December 1916, p. 110.
A. Vollard, 'Die Impressionistischen Theorien' in Kunst und Kunstler: Illustrierte Monatsschrift für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe, vol. XX, no. 9, Berlin, 1922, p. 315 (illustrated; titled 'Falaises').
M. Drucker, Renoir, Paris, 1944, no. 52, p. 201 (illustrated pl. 52; titled 'Falaises a Pourville').
M. Drucker, Renoir, Paris, 1949, no. 50, p. 196 (illustrated pl. 50; titled 'Falaises a Pourville').
W. Gaunt, Renoir Paintings, London, 1952, pl. 46, p. 10 (illustrated; titled 'Les Falaises de Pourville').
M. Drucker, Renoir, Paris, 1955, no. 50, p. 152 (illustrated pl. 50; titled 'Falaises a Pourville').
E. Fezzi, L'Opera completa di Renoir, nel periodo impressionista 1869-1883, Milan, 1972, no. 359, p. 105 (illustrated; titled 'Scogliere a Pourville').
W. Gaunt & K. Adler, Renoir, Oxford, 1982, pp. 17, 18 & 30 (illustrated fig. 5; titled 'The Cliffs of Pourville').
G.-P. & M. Dauberville, Renoir, Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, vol. I, 1858-1881, Paris, 2007, no. 150, p. 210 (illustrated).
M. Reinhard-Felice ed., Victor Chocquet: Freund und Sammler der Impressionisten, Renoir, Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Bern, 2015, no. 95, p. 211 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim Jeune, Exposition A. Renoir, January - February 1900, no. 48, p. 4 (titled 'La Falaise').
Basel, Kunsthalle, Meister des XIX. Jahrhunderts, September - October 1931, no. 92, p. 8 (titled 'Falaises').
Tübingen, Kunsthalle, Renoir, January - May 1996, no. 54, p. 192 (illustrated p. 194; titled 'Falaises à Pourville').
London, The National Gallery, Renoir Landscapes 1865-1883, February - May 2007, no. 47, p. 206 (illustrated p. 207; titled 'Cliffs at Berneval').
Further Details
This work will be included in the forthcoming Renoir digital catalogue raisonné, currently being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

In the winter of 1878, Pierre-Auguste Renoir met Paul Bérard, the diplomat and banker who would become one of the artist’s most significant patrons. Following their initial encounter, Bérard commissioned Renoir to paint his daughter, Marthe, and, pleased with the outcome, invited the artist to visit his estate outside of Dieppe. Renoir went on to spend July to September 1879, as well as the six subsequent summers, living and working at Bérard’s Château de Wargemont. There, he created more than three dozen works, the majority of which were portraits of the family, as well as several decorative panels for the house. In addition to commissions from the Bérards – executed alongside those for other affluent Parisians holidaying in Normandy – Renoir painted several scenes inspired by his experiences roaming this stretch of the French coast line, including the celebrated Pêcheuses de moules à Berneval (Dauberville, no. 215; The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia) and the present Sur la falaise.

Although principally known for his paintings of women and children, during these summers Renoir delved into the landscape genre, primarily as a ‘a form of relaxation’ (C. Bailey, ‘The Greatest Luminosity, Colour, and Harmony: Renoir’s Landscapes, 1862-1883,’ in C. Bailey and C. Riopelle, Renoir: Landscapes 1865-1883, exh. cat., National Gallery, London, 2007, p. 64). Such a sense of gentle tranquillity suffuses the present work in which the surf barely appears to ripple. Swathes of white allude to the bleached chalk cliffs that line the Normandy coast while the sea is a lustrous blend of cobalt and aquamarine. To produce such gossamer, luminous veils of pigment – as evanescent as the seafoam itself – Renoir thinned his pigments so that they appear like watercolours. While the painterly effect is uniform across the canvas, Sur la falaise is a study in visual contrasts, between the flat, calm waters of the Channel and the ‘Rococo flourish’ of the cliff edge (C. Riopelle, ‘Cliffs at Berneval, 1879,’ ibid., p. 206).

Relishing the dramatic perspectival juxtapositions from atop the cliff, Sur la falaise offers a vertiginous plunge onto the sea. On the grassy knoll overlooking a sandy cove, a well-dressed gentleman gazes out over the landscape, watching the peaceful rhythm of the waves as they reach the shoreline. Scholars posit that the figure – dressed in a fashionably light suit and boater hat – is Jacques-Émile Blanche, who Renoir tutored in painting that first summer at the Château de Wargemont. Blanche was the son of a prominent psychiatrist and art collector, and the family later commissioned three paintings from Renoir depicting scenes from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. However, his identity ultimately remains a mystery to the viewer—seen only from behind, the figure remains anonymous, a detail which underscores his smallness amidst the dramatic landscape. Indeed, Sur la Falaise plays with the tradition of the Sublime, in which man’s experience of the natural world is one of awe and wonder. Here, Renoir’s protagonist appears to have been caught in such a moment, ‘in contemplation before infinity’ (Catalogue des Tableaux Modernes, exh. cat., Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1899, p. 6).

Beyond the Blanche family, Bérard’s summer home was a lively, sociable place, with visits from Louis Cahen d’Anvers, the Ephrussi family, and the collector Victor Chocquet, who acquired Sur la Falaise shortly after it was completed. Chocquet, an early admirer of Impressionism, assembled a large collection of art by the movement’s key representatives. He particularly appreciated works by Paul Cezanne and Renoir, owning the latter’s Alphonsine Fournaise (À la Grenouillère) and La Yole, among others (Dauberville, nos. 321 and 141; Musée d’Orsay, Paris, and The National Gallery, London). Renoir also painted several portraits of Choquet and his wife, examples of which can be found in the collections of the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, respectively (Dauberville, nos. 541 and 416).

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