This painting will be included in the forthcoming Renoir catalogue critique being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute and established from the archive funds of François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein.
Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville have confirmed that this painting is included in their Bernheim-Jeune archives as an authentic work.
Renoir had occasionally painted nude bathers in the early years of his career, but once he returned from his tour of Italy in 1881, this theme would become a constant preoccupation in his oeuvre over the remaining three decades of his life. In search of an idealized classicizing form, he was particularly struck by Raphael'’s frescoes in Rome and the Pompeian frescoes at the Museo Nazionale in Naples. Renoir made clear his own view of classicism: 'The simplest themes are the eternal ones. A nude woman is Venus or Nini [Lopez, one of Renoir's favorite models], whether she is emerging from the waves of the sea or rising from her bed. Our imagination can conceive of nothing better'(quoted in exh. cat., Renoir, Kunsthalle, Tübingen, 1996, p. 265). He was aesthetically drawn to explore this traditional theme, which had latterly been considered rather academic, but other factors were also at play. Certainly his relationship with Aline Charigot provoked his interest in this theme, and she frequently acted as his model, but he was also eager to attract the commercial success of Bougereau and Gérôme, the leading academic painters of the day, whose smoothly painted nudes were the mainstay of the Salon.
The influence of Renoir'’s Italian sojourn is evident in the monumental, rounded forms of his nude bathers depicted in a generalized, outdoor setting. The composition of the present painting is dominated by a young female bather, of soft, round and ample form, seated by a lake in an undefined landscape. Not entirely nude, some folds of drapery fall from her waist, and she appears to be drying her left arm. Her face is in profile, with her eyes modestly downcast unaware of the viewer's glance. As is characteristic of Renoir's bathers in the 1880s and 1890s, her rosy-cheeked face is very youthful, sweet and innocent. In 1896, the critic Gustave Geffroy described these young bathers as 'instinctive beings, at the same time children and women, to whom Renoir brings a convinced love and... observation. They are a wholly individual idea, these young girls who are sensual without vice, oblivious without cruelty. They exist like children and like flowers which absorb the air and dew' (quoted in ibid., p. 264).