- Pierre-Auguste Renoir
- Jeune fille aux roses
- signed Renoir (upper right)
- oil on canvas
Etienne Bignou, Paris
Private Collection, Paris
Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd., London (acquired from the above in 1935)
W. Scott & Sons, Montreal (acquired from the above in December 1936)
Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris (acquired by 1982)
Acquired from the above by the father of the present owner in the 1980s
Paris, Galerie Daniel Malingue, Maîtres Impressionnistes et Modernes, 1982, no. 7, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Portraiture was the dominant form of Renoir’s œuvre during the first couple of decades of his career. In the 1860s and 1870s he accepted numerous paid commissions as he sought to establish himself as an artist, yet this most traditional of genres was also the means through which he began to develop his distinctive artistic idiom. As Colin Bailey writes, ‘Whereas the pose and presentation of Renoir’s sitters might be conservative or appropriated, the paintings themselves look nothing like the conventional portraiture of the last decade of the Second Empire and the early Third Republic. What distinguishes them from those of Renoir’s Salon contemporaries is the extraordinary light with which they are imbued’ (C. Bailey, Renoir’s Portraits: Impressions of an Age (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1997, p. 21).
The identity of the young girl in the present work is unknown, and despite the formal setting, Renoir seems to have been more interested in presenting a paradigm of beauty than in capturing any particular characteristics. Conforming in many respects to the artist’s physical ideal, her robust and wholesome beauty bears more than a passing resemblance to Gabrielle, Renoir’s favoured studio model at the turn of the century (fig. 1). Gabrielle joined the Renoir family as a nursemaid shortly after the birth of the artist’s second son in 1894, and Renoir was immediately struck by her appearance. She came to embody his ideal of female beauty and some of his most tender and intimate portraits are those of her with his young children. The roses in the present work are also a motif that appears frequently in portraits of Gabrielle. Renoir often included flowers in his pictures of young women but the rose became his bloom of choice in the 1890s and seems particularly appropriate in enhancing the fresh, natural beauty that he captures in the present work.
Renoir’s young subject is presented in the conventional style which had characterised the portraiture of great masters for centuries – three quarter length, gazing steadfastly out at the viewer against a generalised background with even a hint of the parapet so beloved by Renaissance painters – yet this formality is moderated by the suppleness of the handling and the softness of the colour. Renoir juxtaposes cool greens and blues against the warmer pinks of the flowers and her skin to build light and shadow within the work. Applying the paint with soft and expansive brushstrokes he imbues his subject with the warm vitality that made his depictions of the human figure so widely acclaimed. Roger Benjamin writes, ‘To love his women you have to forget the body we know… and intuit one based on the sensation of proximity, indeed intimacy: of flesh held close and dear, or warmth emanating from beneath light fabric, of perfumed skin that is delicate to the touch’ (R. Benjamin, in Renoir in the 20th century (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 2010, p. 136).
Jeune fille aux roses was first owned by the legendary Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard. Vollard’s initial introduction to Renoir occurred around 1895 and that same year Renoir persuaded him to mount the first exhibition dedicated to Cézanne. Vollard went on to become one of Renoir’s main dealers in the early twentieth century and the two men formed a close friendship that was to continue until Renoir’s death in 1919.