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La fête de Pan

La fête de Pan
signed 'Renoir.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 1⁄4 x 29 1⁄4 in. (64 x 74.5 cm.)
Painted in summer 1879
Paul Bérard, Paris (acquired from the artist); Estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 8-9 May 1905, lot 17.
Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Bérard, Paris (acquired at the above sale).
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York and Paris (acquired from the above, May 1936).
Robert Nahmann, Paris (acquired from the above, 31 December 1937).
Private collection, France; sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 13 May 1953, lot 61.
Anon. sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 26 March 1958, lot 157.
Anon. sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 5 December 1962, lot 93.
Gloria Gurney, New York (acquired at the above sale); sale, Christie's, London, 1 July 1975, lot 7.
Arthur Murray, New York and Honolulu.
Adelson Galleries, New York (acquired from the family of the above).
Private collection, Los Angeles (acquired from the above).
William Vareika Fine Arts, Ltd, Newport, Rhode Island.
Acquired from the above by the present owners, 18 April 2007.
G. Coquiot, Renoir, Paris, 1925, p. 226.
A.C. Barnes and V. de Mazia, The Art of Renoir, New York, 1935, p. 451, no. 96.
M. Bérard, Renoir à Wargemont, Paris, 1938 (illustrated, pl. 22).
M. Drucker, Renoir, Paris, 1944, p. 13.
"Coming Auctions" in ArtNews, May 1953, vol. 52, p. 8 (illustrated).
M. Bérard, "Un diplomate, ami de Renoir" in Revue d'histoire diplomatique, July-September 1956, no. 3, p. 8.
"Gift of Anonymous Donor Is Auctioned for Charity" in The New York Times, 6 December 1962, p. 45 (illustrated).
F. Daulte, Auguste Renoir: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, figures, Lausanne, 1971, vol. I, no. 314 (illustrated).
F. Daulte, Renoir, New York, 1973, p. 89, no. 16 (illustrated).
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Renoir: Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, Paris, 2007, vol. I, p. 18, no. 240 (illustrated).
A. Blaugrund, ed., Charting New Waters: Redefining Marine Painting, Winona, 2013, pp. 74 and 112, figure 28 (illustrated in color, p. 75).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Renoir, March 1913, no. 21 (dated 1881).
Paris, Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Grands maîtres du XIXe siècle, May-June 1922, no. 75.
Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, Renoir, 1933, vol. 1, p. 25, no. 51 (illustrated, vol. 2, pl. XXXII).
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Great French Masters of the 19th Century, February-March 1934, p. 21, no. 43 (illustrated).
Winona, Minnesota Marine Art Museum (on extended loan, 2007-2022).
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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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted this florid allegorical canvas, La fête de Pan, in the summer of 1879. Commissioned to adorn the drawing room of the Bérard family’s country home, the Château de Wargemont, La fête de Pan depicts a spring festival devoted to the ancient Greek god, Pan—a rare example of a mythological subject in Renoir’s oeuvre. This jubilant painting combines the artist’s careful observations of nature en plein air with his imaginative fantasies of beauty, both feminine and floral. The work’s jewel-toned color palette, brilliant sense of light, and lush, evocative brushwork further embody Renoir’s bold Impressionist style in the late 1870s.
La fête de Pan depicts an Arcadian paradise—which closely resembles the northern coast of France, near the Château de Wargemont—and refers to classical mythology; yet it is also utterly timeless, beyond the specificity of time and place. In this atemporal fantasy, Renoir imagined two shepherds and two nymphs atop a picturesque seaside bluff, overlooking a swathe of cobalt and seagrass-green water. Together, they weave thick floral garlands to drape over a marble bust of Pan, a Greek god bearing the head and torso of a man, with the horns and hooves of a goat. In the foreground, a barefoot blonde maiden has left the group in pursuit of more flowers. She moves excitedly towards a blooming bush thick with red, pink and white roses; her golden tresses and the skirt of her white chemise are born aloft in a gentle gust of wind, emphasizing her dynamic stride.
With this work, Renoir evokes the naturalistic, dappled quality of sunlight upon flesh and fabric, the visual effects of which had preoccupied him for much of the 1870s. This painting also possesses a soft, hazy focus, the sort of blurred vision that defined Renoir’s work at the height of the Impressionist era. Renoir’s fluid painting technique was at the heart of his modernist project—to quickly convey the subtle movements of rippling water, drifting clouds, flickering blades of grass, and frolicking bodies in space. Yet this painterly style also reveals Renoir’s close study of the buoyant brushwork of the famed Rococo colorists Jean-Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, whose dreamy fête galante paintings were undoubtedly a source of inspiration for the present work.
Renoir painted La fête de Pan while visiting his patron, Paul Bérard, at his country home, the Château de Wargemont, located near the northern French port of Dieppe. The subject of La fête de Pan was likely chosen by Bérard, specifically intended to decorate his drawing room at Wargemont. Pan was often associated with the pagan wildness of nature, and his cult traditionally celebrated in association with the return of spring. In this sense, Renoir’s La fête de Pan was perfectly suited the interior of the Château de Wargemont—for it echoed the riches of Bérard’s own rose garden, as well as the fertile pastoral landscape that surrounded it.
Renoir first met Bérard, a wealthy Protestant banker and diplomat, through another of his most important clients—Madame Georges Charpentier, whose portrait with her two children appeared in the Paris Salon of 1879 (Dauberville, no. 239; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Bérard quickly became one of the artist’s most significant patrons; in the words of Colin Bailey, “It was the nonconformist and skeptical Bérard, eight years older than Renoir, with a large family and a wide social acquaintance—each of whom was a potential subject for Renoir's brush—who played Maecenas to Renoir's Virgil” (Renoir’s Portraits, exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1997, p. 34). Renoir painted a number of luminous landscapes at Bérard’s home at Wargemont, inspired by the wild foliage, charming villages, and dramatic coastal cliffs nearby. He also went on to paint several portraits of Bérard’s family; his children, André, Lucie, Marthe and Marguerite, appear in Renoir’s large-scale picture of 1884, L’après-midi des enfants à Wargemont (Dauberville, no. 965; Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).
The present work remained in Bérard’s collection until his death in 1905; that year, it appeared alongside L'après-midi des enfants à Wargemont at Bérard’s estate sale at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. La fête de Pan was purchased by Alfred Bérard—the nephew of Paul Bérard, who was a frequent visitor to the Château de Wargemont and who had his own portrait painted by Renoir as a young man (Jeune chasseur avec son chien, Dauberville, no. 574; 1881, Philadelphia Museum of Art). La fête de Pan achieved the highest price at Bérard’s estate sale, which indicates the fondness that Alfred Bérard must have felt for this exceptional painting, and the place of pride that it once held at the Château de Wargemont. The painting remained in Alfred Bérard’s collection until 1936, during which time he lent it to one of the artist’s first major retrospective exhibitions at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie. in Paris in 1913.

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