This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue critique of Pierre-Auguste Renoir being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute, as established from the archives of François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein.
During the 1870s, one of Renoir's favorite subjects was the fashionable young Parisienne, clad in the latest styles and often sporting an elaborate hat. Ann Dumas has written, "It is the pert, pretty Parisienne that we most readily associate with Renoir. He seems to have felt at ease with these grisettes--the laundresses, seamstresses, and milliners of Montmartre--girls from a similar working-class background to his own. Dressed in the latest fashions, dancing, in cafés, trying on hats, or caught up in the crowds along bustling elegant boulevards, they form the core of his work in the 1870s" (Renoir's Women, New York, 2005, p. 12). In the present painting, the model--known today only as Adrienne--wears a broad-brimmed hat festooned with white and black plumes and an elegant silver dress with a form-fitting, high-necked bodice. Seated outdoors, most likely in a public park, she folds her hands demurely in her lap and lifts her chin expectantly, as though awaiting the arrival of a companion. Although the models who posed for these scenes have often been identified, Renoir intended the paintings not as portraits of individual sitters but as portrayals of a contemporary type. One of the artist's submissions to the first Impressionist group show in 1874, for instance, depicts an actress named Henriette Henriot. Renoir, however, exhibited the painting with the generic title La Parisienne, transforming Henriette into an archetypal modish young woman of the day, not unlike the fashion plates in contemporary journals (Daulte, no. 102; National Museums and Galleries of Wales, Cardiff).
Renoir's interest in women's fashion, especially millinery, is well-documented. Valadon, who posed for the painter between 1883 and 1887, recalled in her memoirs that he had a particular penchant for women's hats and had them made to order for his sitters. In a letter dated 1880 to an unidentified model, Renoir wrote, "Come to Chatou tomorrow with a pretty summer hat. Do you still have that big hat that you look so nice in? If so, I'd like that, the gray one, the one you wore in Argenteuil" (quoted in G. Adriani, Renoir, exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Tübingen, 1996, p. 204). In 1878, he painted one of his favorite models, Marguerite Legrand, seated in a milliner's shop (Daulte, no. 274; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts), anticipating Degas's celebrated series on the subject. The following year, he proposed to Madame Georges Charpentier, one of his most important early patrons, that her husband feature the fashions of the week on the last page of the influential journal that he published, La Vie Moderne: "We could make an arrangement with milliners and seamstresses--one week for hats, the next for dresses, etc. I would visit them so that I could do the necessary drawings from different angles on site" (quoted in ibid., p. 181).
In the late 1870s, Renoir made a concerted--and quite successful-- effort to become a portraitist to wealthy Parisians. Frustrated by bad press and poor sales, he ceased to exhibit at the Impressionist group shows and again tried his luck at the official Salons. In 1879, he was represented in the Salon by two large society portraits, one of the well-known actress Jeanne Samary (Daulte, no. 263; State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg) and the other of Madame Charpentier with her two children (Daulte, no. 266; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The latter was hung in a prominent position and met with widespread critical acclaim; Pissarro reported to the collector Eugène Murer, "Renoir is having great success at the Salon. I think he is launched, so much the better, poverty is so hard" (quoted in B.E. White, Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 88). Over the next three years, Renoir received an increasing number of portrait commissions, which transformed his economic situation. Although many of these depict young women in fashionable dress, they are distinguished from his contemporaneous genre pictures by their greater decorousness and physiognomic specificity. Colin Bailey has written, "The distinctions between genre and portraiture were blurred in Renoir's work early on, yet it is clear that he conceived of them as quite separate activities. At some remove from his commissioned portraits, however informal, are the plentiful genre paintings of the 1870s that show... the adolescents of Montmartre transformed into amiable Parisiennes, whose modernity and plebeian allure found favor both with Durand-Ruel and with Renoir's progressive collectors" (Renoir's Portraits: Impressions of an Age, exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1997, p. 13).