LE BARON BARBIER
Renoir, one of the most prolific portrait painters among the Impressionists, dedicated himself with as much skill to commissioned portraits as to portraits of models from his relatives and friends, as is the case with the Portrait du Baron Barbier painted in 1877. The subtle variations of colour combined with fluid, filmy brushstrokes endow this composition with flexibility, finesse and harmony. The chromatic range is characteristic of these years and dominated by bright, slightly blurred green-blues, which reflect the variations of natural light, the face emerging subtly from a vibrant and hazy background. The model is depicted reading with concentration, as if caught in a moment of life, in a deliberately natural position. This stance is symptomatic of the painter's desire to endow his portraits with a physical, almost tangible, presence that reflects the model's very essence.
The Baron Barbier was formerly a Cavalry officer, a bohemian figure, a friend of Renoir and an intimate friend of Maupassant. A great rower, he is depicted from the back in the famous Déjeuner des canotiers (Boater's lunch), painted in 1880 and kept in The Phillips Collection in Washington. The painting depicts an animated social atmosphere at the Fournaise, a restaurant and dance hall situated on the island of Chatou, a boating station that became at the end of the 19th century a fashionable place for Parisian society to get together in the summer. Other than the Baron Barbier, recognizable with his bowler hat, it is possible to identify other figures from the era and close friends of Renoir in this painting, including Aline Charigot, Renoir's future wife, Alphonse Fournaise junior, the son of the owner, Ephrussi, editor of the "Gazette des Beaux-Arts", the actress Ellen Andrée, Lestringuez and Paul Lhote, friends of Renoir, the journalist Maggiolo, the actress and model Angèle and the painter Gustave Caillebotte.
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