The present work will be sold with written confirmation of inclusion in the Renoir catalogue raisonne, currently being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute. This pastel was commissioned by Joseph Durand-Ruel in 1898, when his daughter Marie-Louise was one year old.
Joseph (1862-1928) was the eldest son of Paul Durand-Ruel, the committed supporter of the refusés and Renoir's dealer. He was the first of Paul's five children, born from his marriage to Jeanne Marie Lafon in 1862, and famously captured in one of Renoir's most successful en plein air portraits (1882, fig. 1). As C. Bailey wrote, 'Götz Adriani has recently noted that Joseph would have to be content with the role of "crown prince" in the family business until his father's retirement in 1913, when he assumed the directorship of both the Paris and New York branches of Durand-Ruel and Company. Yet as early as September 1888 Pissarro informed his son that Joseph was "very much the dealer, it would appear, and exercises considerable influence over his father". Renoir, in his business dealings with him, seems to have especially appreciated Joseph's punctiliousness' (op. cit., p. 192).
At the age of thirty-four, in 1896, Joseph married Marie Jenny Lefébure, a talented pianist whose father ran the Salle Pleyel, one of Paris's most prestigious recital halls. Degas and Puvis de Chavannes were the witnesses for the groom; Pissarro was invited to the wedding. The couple had four children, the youngest of whom, Charles (1905 -1985), succeded his father as the last active head of Durand-Ruel and Company. Following the family tradition, Joseph commissioned Renoir to depict two of his children: the young Marie-Louise, born in 1897, whom the artist immortalised in the present pastel; and Jenny, portrayed in the Durand-Ruel house in Saint-Cloud in the summer of 1911.
The birth of Renoir's second son, Jean, in September 1894, influenced greatly the artist's approach to the representation of children.
Before he was two years old, Jean had sat for his father for an entire series of paintings, pastels, and drawings in which he is portrayed under the protective eye of Gabrielle Renard (fig. 2). Renoir's interest in his new-born son, whom he studied with an unprecedented focus and attention, is echoed in this delicate, yet extremely fresh portrait of the little Marie-Louise, caught in all her playful liveliness.