This work will be included in the forthcoming Pierre-Auguste Renoir Digital Catalogue Raisonné, currently being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.
Unlike his contemporaries Monet, Sisley and Bazille, Renoir showed little interest in still-life at the beginning of his career. From around 1880, however, it began to occupy an increasing importance in his output, underlining the 'academic' approach that influenced his art. The numerous works, often elaborate and ambitious, which he executed in this genre over the course of his career attest to his sustained interest in still-life as an end in itself. Indeed, it was in his still-life compositions that Renoir pursued some of his most searching investigations of the effects of light and colour on objects and surfaces. Renoir told his biographer, Albert André, that it was in his small scale still-lifes such as the present work that 'he put the whole of himself, that he took every risk' (A. André, Renoir, 1928, p. 49).
Light pervades Nature morte aux pommes et à poire, suffusing the scene with an atmospheric radiance. The rich red and yellow hues of the apples and pear are highlighted with luminous areas of white and green, while light plays across the tablecloth, animated with blue and pink shadows and orange stripes, which enrich its textural qualities. The present work demonstrates how Renoir increasingly sought to reconcile the tenets of Impressionism with the structure and permanence of the classical tradition. The sophisticated light effects neither dissolve the contour of the objects nor mitigate their mass. Indeed the fruit, cloth and tabletop seem to gain in substance and clarity from the light filtering across the canvas.
Discussing Renoir's pictorial dialogue with France's great genre painter Jean Siméon Chardin, Charles Sterling's statement of Renoir's achievement in still-life could well describe the present painting: 'Nurtured on the traditions of eighteenth-century French painting, Renoir...carried on the serene simplicity of Chardin. Pale shadows, light as a breath of air, faintly ripple across the perishable jewel of a ripe fruit. Renoir reconciles extreme discretion with extreme richness, and his full-bodied density is made up, it would seem, of coloured air. This is a lyrical idiom hitherto unknown in still life, even in those of Chardin. Between these objects and us there floats a luminous haze through which we distinguish them, tenderly united in a subdued shimmer of light (C. Sterling, Still Life in Painting from Antiquity to the Present Time, Paris, 1959, p. 100).