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Nu couché (Odalisque couchée)

Nu couché (Odalisque couchée)
signed 'Renoir' (centre right)
oil on canvas
37.8 x 50.5 cm. (14 7/8 x 19 7/8 in.)
Painted in Paris in 1914
Maurice Gangnat, Paris; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 25 June 1925, lot 56
M. Lübeck, by whom acquired at the above sale
Private collection, Paris
Private collection, Switzerland
Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris, by November 1981
Mr and Mrs Sigmund A. Rolat, New York; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 17 May 1990, lot 32
Galerie Deux, Tokyo
Michel Cohen, New York
Private collection, America, by whom acquired from the above on 8 February 1999; sale, Christie's, London, 23 June 2010, lot 2.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

This work will be included in the forthcoming Renoir Digital Catalogue Raisonné, currently being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.
G. Rivière, Renoir et ses amis, Paris, 1921 (illustrated opposite p. 262).
C. Kunstler, Renoir peintre fou de couleur, Paris, 1941 (illustrated pl. 13).
D. Rouart, Renoir, Geneva, 1954, p. 104 (illustrated).
M. Gauthier, Renoir, Paris, 1967, p. 62 (illustrated).
M. Dauberville, Renoir, Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, vol. V, 1911 - 1919 & 1er Supplément, Paris, 2014, no. 4354, p. 433 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Daniel Malingue, Maîtres impressionnistes et modernes, November - December 1981, no. 3.

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Lot Essay

Painted in 1914, Nu couché (Odalisque couchée) is a sensuous exploration of one of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's most favoured themes: the female nude. This was the subject for which Renoir became so celebrated, particularly in his unique ability to conjure a sense of life, a radiance and vitality in his human subjects, the skin of his timeless nudes alive through deftly wielded colour; imbued with warmth, sensuality and softness through his brush. It was perhaps in recognition of his own contribution to the genre that, at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Renoir carried out several explorations of the theme of the Nu couché, reflecting his own role in the long and ongoing legacy of the reclining female subject, alongside such predecessors as Titian, Velasquez, Ingres and Manet.

The reclining pose of Nu couché (Odalisque couchée) further reflects a long line of distinguished antecedents by earlier artists. From the previous century there were Manet's famous Olympia, 1863 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), as well as the Louvre's Grande Odalisque by Ingres, painted exactly one century earlier. Titian's nus d'Urbino, 1538, in the Uffizi, Florence, had inspired Manet's nude, together with Goya's La maja desnuda, circa 1800 (Museo del Prado, Madrid). Indeed, it was a visit to the Prado in 1892, in the company of his friend the publisher Paul Gallimard, that Renoir finally had the opportunity to view many works by Goya and Velázquez firsthand, and to study a painting which would come to hold particular interest for him, Titian's Venus with an Organist and Cupid, from circa 1555 (Museo del Prado, Madrid). He later commented to Ambroise Vollard, "Ah, Titian has everything. First, mystery; then depth... In the Venus and the Organist the limpid quality of that glowing flesh is fairly alive. You actually feel the joy he had in painting it... I have really lived a second life through the pleasure I have had from the work of the masters" (quoted in A.Vollard, Renoir: An Intimate Record, New York, 1925, p. 62).

It is clear to see influence of Titan’s masterpiece in the compositional elements employed in Nu couché (Odalisque couchée), the upper quadrants of the composition divided between interior and exterior realms, the nude occupying the foreground and extending the width of the canvas on her divan in a similar way. Nu couché (Odalisque couchée) further echoes, in its composition, Velasquez's “Rokeby Venus”, in the National Gallery, London, where the nude faces away, depicted from behind. Whilst Velasquez's Venus looks back, her gaze reflected in the mirror, Renoir’s muse does not; she observes the natural beauty beyond her window rather than confronting her audience. By cleverly shifting her pose in this way, Renoir casts the model within her own realm of thought, looking out from her divan over the lush landscape that lies beyond her curtains, immersing and aligning herself within the natural world. The curtains themselves appear with reference points to Old Master paintings, including the aforementioned by Velazquez and Titian, denoting a sense of intimacy within the interior environment, at the same time revealing a glimpse of the countryside beyond. Even the colours with which Renoir has captured this landscape deliberately evoke the vivid, loose brushwork of Titian's late works, emanating a sense of breeziness and freedom.

While Renoir was clearly looking to the past in terms of his subject matter and composition, he has nonetheless created a strikingly fresh, modern vision in Nu couché (Odalisque couchée). The brushwork has combined to conjure the lush appearance of the healthy flesh, in contrast to varied and gestural colours of the interior and backdrop. There is an expressionistic quality to the feathered application of the oils that lends the work an intriguing energy, recalling his son Jean's description of Renoir's painting process, whereby rather than painting bit by bit, he would cover the canvas in colour and gradually allow the image to emerge: 'the motif gradually emerged from the seeming confusion, with each brushstroke, as though on a photographic plate' (J. Renoir, Renoir, My Father, London, 1962, p. 343).

The reclining female motif would continue to be an enduring theme for other artists throughout the Twentieth Century, as adapted by Matisse in his famous odalisques of the 1920s, in the wake of Renoir’s passing, then taken up with great renewed vigour by Picasso in the wake of Matisse’s passing in 1954, having already provided a great deal of sustenance to his practice in previous years, such as his famed representations of Marie-Thérèse Walter in 1932 which were inspired by the Sleeping Ariadne (Vatican Museums, Vatican City), also witnessed in a number of Giorgio de Chirico’s pittura metafisica. The theme continued to be adapted by artists from De Kooning to Bacon and Freud in Picasso’s wake, each asserting their own interpretation, continuing the legacy through new aesthetic languages. It is indeed a footprint that continues to the present day with critical consideration, remaining a fundamental emblem within the history of art.

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