Between 1883 and 1887 Renoir turned away from pure Impressionism to concentrate on a more clearly defined classicism which has been called his 'période ingresque'. Only six years before Renoir was still attracted to a different aesthetic: a more feathery, Impressionistic brushstroke which can be seen in Jeune fille endormiée (fig. 1), painted in 1880.
Commenting on his work in 1883, Renoir had said, 'il s'était fait comme une casure dans mon oeuvre. J'étais allé jusqu'au bout de l'impressionisme, et j'arrivais à cette constatation que je ne savais ni peindre ni dessiner. En un mot, j'étais dans une impasse'. Renoir henceforth imposed upon himself a severe discipline which became more evident over the following three years as he laboured over Les Grandes Baigneuses (D. 514), now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In all the works of this period Renoir was clearly aiming for greater control of form, tauter pictorial organisation and a plasticity in his figures which had not existed previously. Jeune fille blonde is characteristic of this new style; the figure of the young girl is carefully modelled, her strong contours contrasting with the flat, indistinct background. His brushwork is smooth and polished in the girl's face and intentionally looser elsewhere, in her hair and in the patches of colour in the background. By this means he gives substance to her physical presence whilst also producing an alluring delicacy. The soft pastel shades, the warm reds and yellows, enhance this effect. Commenting on Renoir's 'période ingresque' François Daulte has written 'grâce à sa tendresse et à son moelleux incomparables, la sanguine devait permettre à Renoir, mieux que tout autre procédé, de suggérer une image nouvelle de la féminité' (F. Daulte, Chapter VII in Renoir, Collection Génies et Réalités, Paris, 1970, p. 161). The same muted palette and control of form is visible in another female portrait of 1886, his celebrated Madame Renoir avec Pierre (D. 496) in the Norton Simon Foundation, Los Angeles.
Jos Hessel (fig. 2) was a prominent art dealer who worked with his cousins, the Bernheim brothers Joseph and Gaston who managed the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, long associated with the Impressionists. After 1900, as the Bernheim-Jeune expanded, Jos Hessel was entrusted with the management of their branch on Avenue de l'Opéra. The luxury and flourish with which the Berheim-Jeune galleries were run after 1900 attracted the sparkling patronage of the second generation of collectors of Impressionism, among them, Auguste Pellerin, Etienne Moreau-Nélaton, Paul Gallimard and Lucien Sauphar.