NEW YORK - Highlighting Sotheby’s upcoming Impressionist & Modern Art Evening and Day sales are several magnificent oil paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir from important private collections in Europe and North America. These images are quintessential examples depicting Renoir’s favourite subjects and offer testament to his mastery of the Impressionist style, all the while tracing his lifelong endeavour to redefine the very notion of beauty through his art.
Photograph of Renoir in his studio.
Albert C. Barnes and Violette de Mazia discuss Renoir’s influences and methodologies: “Renoir too was interested in the impressionistic interpretation of nature and in Monet’s technical method of expressing it; but the impact upon his senses, and his interpretation of what was being done by his contemporaries, instead of limiting his field of vision, quickened his sense of perception and broadened his insight. Thus the impressionistic form itself, in Renoir’s hands, acquired a richer meaning because his keener perception and greater freedom of receptivity had discovered in it fuller possibilities than were ever suspected by its originators” (Albert C. Barnes & Violette de Mazia, The Art of Renoir, Collingdale, 1935, p. 39). Renoir, the authors continue, “was continuously unfolding in his perception of Nature; he consistently inquired for, discovered, selected, established, organised and expressed new pictorial effects, connections, relationships, values and meanings, all reflecting a wide field of life activities, and a profound assimilation of the great traditions of painting” (ibid. p. 40).
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Nature morte au compotier, circa 1890. Estimate $400,000–600,000.
Nature morte au compotier and Roses blanches, dans un vase underscore Renoir’s deft interpretation of the Impressionist aesthetic, particularly in his ability to replicate the texture of verdurous fruit and pure luxuriance of a floral arrangement. Renoir may have composed these works in staged environments, but he enlivens the canvases with the seemingly spontaneous execution of his brush. Roses blanches is a particularly apt subject for Renoir, who began his career painting flowers on porcelain for the Sèvres workshop.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Roses blanches, dans un vase. Estimate $300,000–400,000.
Renoir captures the beauty and delicacy of last model, Andrée Heuchling, in Femme à la fenêtre avec vue sur le vieux Nice. In early 1915, at the age of sixteen, young Andrée arrived at the home of the artist in Cagnes-sur-Mer along the French Riviera in the midst of World War I. At the time, Renoir was coping with debilitating arthritis as he mourned the death of his wife, his companion of thirty-six years. Jean Renoir, the artist’s youngest son and future husband of Andrée, later recalled, “Andrée was one of the vital elements which helped Renoir to interpret on his canvas the tremendous cry of love he uttered at the end of his life” (Jean Renoir, Renoir, My Father, New York, 1958, p. 426). Renoir’s expert handling and use of golden hues to accent his sitter’s clothing, not to mention his rendering of the old town of Nice, visible through the window, ties Andrée’s loveliness to the magnificence of her birthplace. Renoir painted over one hundred paintings depicting Andrée in the four short years they shared before his death in 1919; indeed her likeness figures prominently in his final masterpiece, Grandes baigneuses.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Femme à la fenêtre avec vue sur le vieux Nice, 1918. Estimate $800,000–1,200,000.
Renoir’s focus on and facility for depicting the female form provided him with the exquisite ability to catch his models in moments of quiet reflection, languor and daily tasks. Théodore Duret wrote in the introduction to his 1883 exhibition catalogue: "[In Renoir] we recognise at first sight the ability to paint woman in all her grace and delicacy, which has led him to excel particularly in portraits. The artist has fully displayed this gift of charm from the beginning, and it is in his ability as a painter and colourist that we must observe his progress and development" (quoted in Barbara E. White, Renoir. His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 132). Nowhere is this talent perhaps more visible than in Jeune fille assise sur un sofa, formerly in the collection of Consuelo Vanderbilt, and Tête de jeune fille se coiffant. These two works, suffused with Renoir’s soft brushstrokes and rosy light, show the artist’s sitters in all of their luxuriant glory.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Jeune fille assise sur un sofá, 1888. Estimate $600,000–800,000.
Jeune fille assise sur un sofa depicts a woman reclining in comfort on an embroidered cushion. Captured in semi-profile and seemingly unaware of the painter’s presence, the young girl is depicted as a modern-day Venus, thereby echoing the art of many of Renoir’s favorite Old Master painters such as Rubens and Velzaquez, while still suggesting a fresh and sensual femininity as well as a coquettish air of innocence. Renoir gently blends the sitter’s fashionable attire through the use of sparkling colour and pattern, exploring one of the prime Impressionist effects of reflecting light on the human form.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Tête de jeune fille se coiffant, 1890. Estimate $1,500,000–2,000,000.
In Tête de jeune fille se coiffant Renoir captures the sitter braiding her hair, eyes staring outwards, perhaps at her own reflection in a looking glass. The poet Emile Verhaeren captures the essence of Renoir’s touch: “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, then 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 Gerd Muesham, ed., French Painters and Paintings from the Fourteenth-Century to Post-Impressionism: A Library of Art Criticism, New York, 1970, p. 511-12).