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.
‘In Renoir’s figure painting, portraiture deserves a place unto itself. For no other artist has looked so deeply into his sitter’s soul, nor captured its essence with such economy’
The distinguished sitter of this portrait belonged to one of France’s greatest Jewish banking dynasties: the Fould family, descendants of Achille Fould, Napoleon III’s Finance Minister. Delphine Fould (née Marchand, 1812–1888) was married to Eugène, with whom she had two children, Henri Jules and Léon. It was Léon who commissioned this portrait of his mother directly from Pierre-Auguste Renoir in July 1880. At this time, Renoir had become absorbed into the dazzling social world of Belle Époque Paris’s haute-bourgeoisie. His entry into this beau-monde milieu was hastened in 1878, when he met the art historian and ardent Impressionist supporter, Charles Ephrussi, scion of another prominent French-Jewish family. Impressed by Renoir’s Portrait de Madame Georges Charpentier et de ses enfants (1878, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) – a depiction of the family of Renoir’s other great patrons of this time, the Charpentiers, which was met with great acclaim when it was shown in the 1879 Salon – Ephrussi suggested that his family and fashionable friends, as well as his mistress, likewise commission portraits from the artist. Described by Fanny Ephrussi as ‘une merveille’, Portrait de Madame Fould (La femme au jabot) was likely painted at the same time as a portrait of Léon Fould’s wife, Thérèse, who was the aunt of Charles Ephrussi (1880, Private collection). Depicted with delicate, feathered strokes of colour, Renoir’s distinctive style, this portrait provides a fascinating glimpse into the interconnected world of the upper echelons of Paris society at this time.
In April 1878, Camille Pissarro described his fellow Impressionist as the ‘portraitiste éminent’ of Paris (Pissarro, quoted in C. Bailey, Renior’s Portraits: Impressions of an Age, exh. cat., Ottawa, Chicago & Fort Worth, 1997-1998, p. 4), and in the L'Artiste annual review published the following year, Renoir was classified among the portraitistes rather than with his Impressionist contemporaries. Having always had a preference for the human figure over the landscape in his art, Renoir, for a brief period at the end of the 1870s and beginning of the 80s, found increasing economic and public success from his Salon exhibited portraits, having been encouraged by Ephrussi and other wealthy patrons to show at the Salon rather than the Impressionist group exhibitions. With this newfound financial stability, he was able to work on what are now considered to be some of his greatest paintings of contemporary French life, the ambitious, multi-figural compositions including Le déjeuner des canotiers (1880-1881, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.) and La danse à Bougival (1883, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
From the illustrious Fould family, this portrait subsequently entered the collection of another prominent member of Paris society: the haute-couture fashion designer, Jeanne Lanvin. Born in Paris in 1867, Lanvin started out as a milliner, creating hats for the rich and fashionable women of the city. Soon, her business expanded to become a thriving fashion house, its name synonymous with elegance and glamour, and its designs among the most influential of the time. Part of an intimate circle of avant-garde artists, writers and musicians in early 20th Century Paris, Lanvin also amassed a renowned art collection featuring works by Renoir, Degas, Fantin-Latour and others. After the legendary designer’s death in 1946, her collection passed to her beloved daughter, Marguerite, or Marie-Blanche as she was known, who would later become La Comtesse Jean de Polignac. It was from her collection that Portrait de Madame Fould returned to the descendants of the sitter, Delphine Fould, once again, entering into the collection of Max Fould-Springer. Born in Vienna, Fould-Springer's father, Eugène, had been ennobled by the Austrian Emperor François-Joseph after his marriage to Marie-Cecile Springer, the daughter of the Austro-Hungarian industrial magnate, Gustav Springer. This work remained in his family’s collection until 2003.