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.
“I have taken up again, never to abandon it, my old style, soft and light of touch. This is to give you some idea of my new and final manner of painting,” Renoir wrote to his dealer Durand-Ruel in 1888, full of enthusiasm for his latest efforts. “Like Fragonard, but not so good,” he added with light-hearted modesty (quoted in J. House, Renoir in the Barnes Foundation, New Haven, 2012, p. 121).
This approach—which represented a sea-change after the controversial, hard-edged method that Renoir had cultivated in mid-decade—plainly informs the present Jeune fille, a softly brushed depiction of a rosy-cheeked, chestnut-haired ingénue, poised on the very brink of womanhood. The model is clad in a loose white chemise with a slight sheen, which slips from her shoulders to reveal an expanse of creamy skin. In a half-length version of the composition, she wears a blue corset over the gauzy shift, explicitly evoking a boudoir context; a third related canvas shows her seated in a pink velvet slipper chair, absorbed in a paperback novel (Dauberville, nos. 1128-1129; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, and Christie’s New York, 3 November 2004, lot 28). All three paintings have a subtly variegated, russet ground that suggests a velvet curtain cloistering the intimate space.
Although the model’s identity remains unknown, her youthful, rounded features and fresh, unstudied beauty conform closely to Renoir’s preferred type during the 1880s and 1890s, softer and more idealized than the naturalistic grisettes or working girls of his Impressionist heyday. The same young woman, distinguished by her upturned nose, bee-stung lips, and long, auburn braid, posed for slender, standing nude at the far right in Les grandes baigneuses, 1887, the culminating manifesto of Renoir’s Ingres-inspired method (Dauberville, no. 1292; Philadelphia Museum of Art). In 1890, she sat for another woodland bather scene wearing the same blue ribbon seen here, knotted spryly at her neck (no. 1313; sold, Christie’s New York, 11 November 2018, lot 45A).
The “new and final manner” that Renoir described to Durand-Ruel found immediate success not only with the dealer’s clientele, but also with a rising generation of the avant-garde. His idealized young girls, with their air of timelessness, appealed to Symbolist proclivities, suggesting an essential meaning beneath external appearances. “Renoir has limited himself to translating his personal emotions, the entirety of nature and the entirety of dream, with methods personal to him,” wrote the Nabi painter Maurice Denis. “He has composed with the pleasures of his eyes wonderful bouquets of women and flowers. And since he is large of heart and strong of will, he has created only beautiful things” (“Notes d’art et d’esthétique” in La Revue Blanche, June 1892; quoted in A. Distel, Renoir, New York, 2010, p. 289).