In the late 1890s, Renoir executed a group of paintings of guitar players in which the protagonists were wearing costumes which were often explicitly Spanish. Julie Manet visiting Renoir's studio in 1897 remarked, "He is working on some delightful guitar studies" (Growing up with the Impressionists, The Diary of Julie Manet, London, 1987, p. 108). According to Jeanne Baudot, "Renoir was inspired to paint girls playing guitars (using a model Germaine) by his delight at a celebrated dancer at the Follies-Bergères, 'La Belle Otéro' - the incarnation of Spanish seduction." (Renoir, ses amis, ses modèles, Paris, 1949, p. 70).
An important change was taking place in Renoir's treatment of costumed figures at this period. Earlier, in the beginning of the 1890s, he was painting young girls in fashionable modern dresses. The Spanish costumed figures recall his orientalist costumes of his early days, however "his rejection of contemporaneity in the later 1890s was an aspect of a general shift towards a more classicizing form of art...He did not return to modern French dress in his later costume pieces, preferring to retain this more timeless mood, with its overtones of exoticism." (Anne Distel, Renoir, London, 1985, p. 265).
By this time Renoir enjoyed widespread success at home and abroad. Durand-Ruel exhibited 42 of Renoir's pictures in June 1896 and the Caillebotte collection, which included six Renoir pictures, was accepted by the Luxembourg Museum. The art critics of the time also began to show their appreciation of Renoir. Huysmans wrote, "He is the true painter of the young ladies, and in the gaiety of the sun he renders the freshness of their skin, the velvet softness of their bodies, the brightness of their eyes, the elegance of their attire." (Renoir, New York, 1950, p. 15). Octave Mirbeau further stated, "He is truly the painter of women...He paints the form of the soul and that inner music and captivating mystery which emanate from the woman. His figures, contrary to those of the majority of modern painters, are not congealed in paste: they sing, animated and alive - the whole gamut of light tones, all the melodies of colour, all the vibrations of light." (op. cit., p. 18).
There is another version of the present painting in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. which is dated 1898 (see M. Bessonova and W. J. Williams, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, New York and Leningrad, 1986 (illustrated in colour p. 126).
To be included in the second volume (Figures 1891-1905) of the forthcoming Renoir catalogue raisonné being prepared by François Daulte.