This work will be included in the critical catalogue of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's paintings being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute.
This work will be included in volume III or subsequent volumes of the Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles de Renoir being prepared by Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville published by Bernheim-Jeune.
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 also the subject for which Renoir himself is so celebrated. 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, perhaps reflecting his own inclusion in the canon of the nude alongside such predecessors as Titian, Velasquez, Ingres and Manet.
Certainly, Nu couché (Odalisque couchée) echoes, in its composition, Velasquez's Rokeby Venus, in the National Gallery, London, as well as the Louvre's Grande Odalisque by Ingres, painted exactly a century earlier. However, the woman in Nu couché is simply facing away, unlike Ingres' example or indeed Velasquez's Venus, whose gaze is reflected in the mirror. Instead, Renoir's nude is absorbed in her world, looking out from her divan over the lush landscape that lies beyond her curtains. Those curtains themselves appear as references to the Old Masters, especially to Titian: while the Venus of Urbino has a curtain behind which a domestic scene is unfolding, his Danaë in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples, in the South of Italy which Renoir so adored, appears closer, with its glimpse of the countryside beyond. Even the colours with which Renoir has captured this sliver of landscape deliberately evoke the vivid, loose brushwork of Titian's late works.
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 the more mottled 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, from the haze, the image would gradually form: '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). It is in looking at works such as Nu couché (Odalisque couchée), which appear to have a fluid ease that belies the effort actually applied, that one understands Renoir's own declaration:
'I know that the critics find fault with Velasquez for his excessive facility. But what better proof that Velasquez knew his craft to perfection? Only the painter who knows his business thoroughly can create the impression that a picture was done at one stroke' (Renoir, quoted in N. Wadley (ed.), Renoir: A Retrospective, New York, 1987, p. 307).