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.
Landscape remained a central pursuit for Renoir throughout his career. Though known primarily for his figurative works, a result in part of his decision to present only works of this type to the annual Salon exhibitions, for Renoir the depiction of the landscape in its purest form offered him a means to experiment more freely with line, colour and form. As a result of this more liberated mode of expression, his works of this genre are often varied in terms of style and paint handling. ‘Landscape is useful for a figure painter,’ Renoir once explained. ‘In the open air, one feels encouraged to put on the canvas tones that one couldn’t imagine in the subdued light of the studio’ (Renoir, quoted in M. Lucy & J. House, Renoir in the Barnes Foundation, New Haven & London, 2012, p. 217). Unlike Monet who sought to convey the topography of a particular location, rendering panoramic cloud-filled skies or the nuanced reflections on water, for example, Renoir was more interested in capturing the overall atmosphere of the natural scene in front of him, a predilection that is exemplified by the shimmering reverie of light, warmth and colour that Le Béal presents.
‘It is as if Renoir is responding to each detail in turn,’ Christopher Riopelle has written about his landscapes, ‘finding the touch and density of paint that will most convincingly capture the freshness and the specificity of each particular motif. This is an exercise in painterly improvisation in which we see the artist striving to find, as quickly as possible, one imagines, an equivalency between an object in nature and the response it evokes in his mind and eye as his hand moves across the canvas and the springtime sun warms him’ (C. Riopelle, op. cit., 2007, p. 230). This intimate, propitious setting encouraged Renoir to venture deeper into his art: landscape provided the artist with the ground on which he could experiment. With pictures such as Le Béal, Lavandières au bord du Loup (lot 427) and Paysage arbore (lot 432), Renoir surpassed Impressionism, appearing to verge on abstraction: although immediately recalling a Mediterranean landscape, in its details the picture dissolves into entrancing polychromatic passages of pure painting. These later, experimental works by Renoir would prove influential for future generations of painters.