The development of Renoir's style in depicting his nudes draws from both his early experience as an Impressionist painter and the influence of a trip he took to Italy in 1881, when he went to see works by Raphael and other Renaissance masters. Renoir's approach to this subject underwent a series of transformations in the 1870s and 1880s, creating an aesthetic that would become the epitome of Renoir's art. In Baigneuse (assise) a seated female bather sits in profile, her legs crossed and eyes either partially or fully closed. The outdoor space she is set in is ambiguous, allowing the figure to fully dominate the composition. The cloth she sits on, presumably to dry herself after bathing, harkens back to the casually yet artfully draped cloths which populate Renaissance art, including the two nudes in the early Titian La Concert champêtre of 1509, a canvas which formed a part of Louis XIV’s collection (and was traditionally attributed to Giorgione).
When Renoir began painting with other Impressionist artists, he favored quick, loose brushstrokes, illustrating the effects of plein-air painting and natural light. During the 1880s, Renoir began to stray from his emphasis of color over line after seeing the precision of forms and subtle light coloration in the works of the Renaissance masters and the palette of the French Rococo artists. Emile Verhaeren, a contemporary poet and art critic of Renoir, summed up the artist's paintings of this period and highlights the quality of Renoir's stylistic details illustrated in the present work. Verhaeren writes, "Here... is an utterly new vision, a quite unexpected interpretation of reality to solicit our imagination. Nothing is fresher, more alive and pulsating with blood and sexuality, than these bodies and faces as he portrays them. Where have they come from, those light and vibrating tones that caress arms, necks, and shoulders, and give a sensation of soft flesh and porousness? The backgrounds are suffusions of air and light; they are vague because they must not distract us" (quoted in G. Muesham, ed., French Painters and Paintings from the Fourteenth Century to Post-Impressionism: A Library of Art Criticism, New York, 1970, pp. 511-12).
John House writes the following on Renoir's fascination with the subject of the female nude in outdoor settings: "On his travels Renoir painted many landscapes and informal outdoor subjects, but his more serious efforts were reserved for themes which tread the borderline between everyday life and idyll-themes with obvious echoes of eighteenth century art. He painted a long series of nudes, mainly young girls in outdoor settings, whom in a letter he called his 'nymphs.' Mainly single figures at first, he brought them together in groups around 1897 in several pictures of girls playing which translate the subject of the 1887 Bathers into a fluent informality very reminiscent of Fragonard's Bathers (Musée du Louvre, Paris)" (J. House, Renoir (exhibition catalogue), London, The Hayward Gallery, 1985, pp. 250-51).
Among the first owners of Baigneuse (assise) was Leo Stein, one of the greatest collectors of early modern art and the brother of Gertrude Stein, the famed writer and famed collector in her own right. The two shared a home in Paris until 1914 due to the latter’s involvement with Alice B. Toklas. He acquired the work in 1909 and in turn sold it to Durand-Ruel Galleries in the 1920s. Several years later Chester Dale would acquire the work. It was Dale’s collection that would form a critical backbone of the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., though Baigneuse (assise) would instead enter the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in the late 1950s. In the late 1960s the canvas was acquired by Algur H. Meadows of Dallas. Meadows not only funded the construction of the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas but also donated many of the works that form their permanent collection and, on his death in 1978, bequeathed large portions of his personal collection to the Dallas Museum of Art.
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