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,’ Renoir wrote to his dealer Durand-Ruel in 1888, full of enthusiasm for his latest efforts. ‘This is to give you some idea of my new and final manner of painting - like Fragonard, but not so good’ (quoted in J. House, Renoir in the Barnes Foundation, New Haven, 2012, p. 121).
The approach here described by Renoir - which represented a sea-change after the controversial, Ingres-inspired method that the artist had cultivated in the previous decade - plainly informs the present painting. Although the model’s identity is unknown, her youthful, rounded features conform closely to Renoir’s preferred type during the 1890s, softer and more idealized than the naturalistic young grisettes or working girls whom he had portrayed during his Impressionist heyday. ‘For me, a painting should be something pleasant, joyous, and pretty,’ he now insisted, ‘yes, pretty!’ (ibid., p. 16).
In the present scene, the young woman gazes out of image to the left, seemingly unaware of the artist’s scrutinizing presence. Her luxuriant mane, glinting in the light, is captured in soft, feathery brushstrokes. The model’s profile, pale and luminous, is set against a golden background which brings out the light reflecting off her luscious locks. The ground suggests a subtly variegated velvet curtain cloistering the boudoir space. The harmonious, integrated palette of vibrant blues, powdery pinks and shimmering golds - as well as the uniformly soft touch of Renoir’s caressing brush, heighten the effect of a private, self-contained world.
The ‘new and final manner’ that Renoir described to Durand-Ruel was an immediate success, ushering in a decade of mounting prosperity and long-awaited fame for the artist. In 1890, just shy of his fiftieth birthday and secure at last that he could support a family, Renoir married Aline Charigot, his long-time companion and the mother of his young son Pierre. ‘I’m in demand again on the market,’ he wrote to the collector Paul Berard. ‘If nothing happens to disturb my work, it will go like clockwork’ (quoted in B. E. White, Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 189). In 1892, the French State purchased Renoir’s Jeunes filles au piano for the Musée Luxembourg, a mark of official recognition that the artist himself counted as one of his crowning achievements.