This drawing will be reproduced in the Renoir catalogue raisonné from François Daulte being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Renoir's interest in classicism emerged in his art, and he abandoned painting the fashionable costume pieces he had favored in the 1890s. From 1903-1907, Renoir created an important series of monumental nudes that directly illustrates his admiration for the grand European classical tradition of Titian and Rubens. He also makes clear reference to his interest for the odalisque theme as epitomized earlier in the century by Ingres. The series was Renoir's most sustained exploration of the subject of the female nude and he depicts his models in both indoor and outdoor settings. The three indoor compositions (one in a private collection, the latter two in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris), as well as a related series of prints, all depict a voluptuous woman reclining on a sofa, her head supported on cushions. Some critics have surmised that the pictures' horizontal format may have been prompted by the artist's physical frailty, specifically an inability to raise his right arm very high.
Among these monumental interior nudes, the present, highly-finished drawing most closely relates to the third, and last, painting in the series, Nu sur les coussins (1907; collection Musée d'Orsay, Paris). However, it relates even more closely to Titian's Venus and the Organist in the Museo del Prado (fig. 1). Renoir saw the painting in Madrid in 1892 and was immediately struck by the heroic composition and luminous technique of the Renaissance master. He told Vollard, "The limpidity of the flesh, one wants to caress it. In front of this painting one feels all the joy that Titian felt when painting. When I see in a painter all the passion which he felt when painting, he makes me feel all the pleasure he felt" (quoted in A. Vollard, En écoutant Cézanne, Degas, Renoir, Paris, 1938, p. 222). Renoir captures here a sensuality similar to that which he admired in the Titian, having swept the charcoal across the paper in sumptuous, almost painterly strokes. Unlike the d'Orsay painting, the model in the present drawing possesses no fabric or drapery to hide her modesty. Instead, as in the Titian, only a jeweled necklace serves to enhance her nudity. She remains the passive object of the viewer's gaze.
The model for several of the pictures was the family's housekeeper, Gabrielle, who often posed for the painter. Yet she does not appear to be depicted in the present drawing. By this point in his career, Renoir no longer felt a conflict between the objective experience of working from a model, and the subjective process of creating an ideal composition. "I could not do without a model,' he told Besson, "but one has to know how to forget the model' (quoted in Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 268). Here, although Renoir depicts his odalisque with a contemporary coiffure, she reclines in a vague and timeles setting. The artist has forgone the use of any other allegorical devices, such as Titian's organist or dog, in order to highlight the immediacy and monumentality of the nude, and her relationship to the viewer.
Joseph-Félix Bouchor, the dedicatee of this drawing, was a landscape and genre painter who exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1879 to 1936. He was awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1910. It is likely that he and Renoir became acquainted through Georges Charpentier in Paris. In addition to his painting, Bouchor also collaborated with Camille Mauclair, the noted critic and historian of Impressionism, by illustrating his books on Venice and Assisi. A shared enthusiasm for the arts of the Italian Renaissance likely brought Bouchor and Renoir together.