Drawn circa 1910, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Etude pour le jugement de Pâris takes as its subject the mythological tale of the Judgement of Paris. This subject captivated Renoir and he painted the scene on two occasions: the first in 1908 and again in 1913, creating a wealth of drawings and studies at the same time. The story of Paris – the son of the King of Troy, who had to decide which of the three goddesses, Hera, Athena or Aphrodite, was the most beautiful – had fascinated artists since the Renaissance. In the present work, Renoir has depicted Paris making his choice, and giving the golden apple to Aphrodite, whom he had picked as the most fair.
At the time that Renoir drew Etude pour le jugement de Pâris he was living in the South of France in his estate called Les Collettes. For Renoir the Mediterranean coast had a distinctly classical allure, conjuring impressions of mythological subjects. It was here that Renoir began to create his own Arcadian idyll, painting voluptuous nudes within the landscape. Renoir was said to have told a visitor while he was working on one of the versions of Le jugement de Pâris, ‘What a lovely and amusing religion the Greeks had. When their gods were bored, they could come and enjoy themselves on earth’, and on another occasion, ‘What admirable beings the Greeks were. Their existence was so happy that they imagined that the gods came down to earth to find their paradise and to make love. Yes, the earth was the paradise of the gods… That is what I want to paint’ (P-A. Renoir, quoted in J. House, ‘Renoir: Between Modernity and Tradition’ in M. Lucy & J. House (eds.), Renoir in the Barnes Foundation, New Haven & London, 2012, p. 16).
With loosely flowing, sensuous lines Etude pour le jugement de Pâris demonstrates Renoir’s unique handling of the female form. The three nude goddesses stand in a range of poses, allowing Renoir to explore the voluptuous forms of the female body. Using sanguine – a red chalk that was favoured by the artist due to the delicate tonal qualities it could convey – as well as charcoal and pastel, Renoir has conveyed the softly undulating curves of the women’s bodies, depicting subtle nuances of form and line.