- Pierre-Auguste Renoir
- LES DEUX SOEURS
- signed A. Renoir (lower right)
- oil on canvas
Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the artist on 8th December 1889)
M. Boy, Paris (acquired from the above in 1890. Sale: Paris, 25th May 1904, lot 25)
Durand-Ruel, Paris (purchased at the above sale)
Paul Cassirer & Hans Goltz, Berlin (acquired on 15th October 1916)
Christian Tetzen-Lund, Copenhagen (acquired on 15th October 1916)
Georges Bernheim, Paris (acquired on 30th December 1929)
Baronne Thyssen (acquired in 1930)
Wildenstein, New York (acquired from the above in 1956)
Charles R. Lachman, New York (acquired from the above in 1956)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo, Auguste Renoir, 1921, no. 27, illustrated in the catalogue
Munich, Neue Pinakothek, Sammlung Schloss Rohoncz. Gemälde, 1930, no. 408
New York, Wildenstein, Renoir, 1958, no. 43, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1884)
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Four Masters of Impressionism, 1968, no. 40, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
New York, Wildenstein, Renoir, 1969, no. 70, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Wildenstein, Renoir. The Gentle Rebel, 1974, no. 44, illustrated in the catalogue
Tübingen, Kunsthalle, Renoir, 1996, no. 79, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Julius Meier-Graefe, Renoir, Leipzig, 1929, no. 209, illustrated p. 201 (as dating from circa 1890)
The Christian Science Monitor, 3rd May 1969, illustrated p. 8
François Daulte, Auguste Renoir. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint. Figures, Lausanne, 1971, no. 562, illustrated
Barbara Ehrlich White, Renoir. His Life, Art and Letters, New York, 1984, illustrated in colour p. 190
Renoir (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris & Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1985-86, mentioned p. 268
Giles Néret, Renoir, peintre du bonheur, Paris, 2001, illustrated n colour pp. 278-279
Renoir's highly accomplished Les Deux soeurs is, by any measure, a benchmark of Impressionist portraiture. Treating the artist’s signature theme, it possesses all of the elegance and panache characteristic of Renoir's major compositions. The picture dates from 1889 and is one of the first in a series of oils that lavishly depict two young women of the upper middle class in a moment of tender exchange. The two fair-haired models for this picture are believed to be the same women who posed for Renoir's La Leçon de piano painted in the same year. The artist's success with both of these works ultimately lead to his creation of the iconic image Jeunes filles au piano, versions of which are now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Musée de l'Orangerie and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
The opulent palette of Les Deux soeurs evokes the warmth and parlour-room intimacy of the scene. The women's upswept hair glistens with gold and amber tones from the lamplight of the interior, and their rouged faces cast a multi-coloured shadow across the pages of the open book. The most lavishly painted elements of the composition are the figures' luxuriant red dresses, which Renoir blends with long sweeps of his brush into a seamless swathe of velvety fabric. The picture is so sensually evocative that we can almost feel the touch of the figure's hand against her cheek as she leans against her sister's shoulder. Götz Adriani recognised Renoir's technical feat here, and wrote about the present work: 'The artist worked hard at individualizing the sitters. He turned this double portrait more into a genre scene. The concentrated activities of the sitters have the same effect that the bright red robes have on the harmony of the whole composition. Never before and rarely after is the triumph of and brilliance of the colour red so eminent. The colour also remarks on the social status of the musically interested sisters, sitting in an upper middle class home' (G. Adriani in Renoir (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1996, p. 254).
By the time he painted the present work, Renoir was renowned as the finest portrait painter of the Impressionist circle. His portraits of women in particular received overwhelming praise by his contemporaries and were admired for their sweet docility and sensual, albeit innocent, allure. These stylised pictures appealed both to contemporary tastes and paid homage to the genre painting of French eighteenth century artists. The critic Théodore Duret later wrote: 'Renoir excels at portraits. Not only does he catch the external features, but through them he pinpoints the model's character and inner self. I doubt whether any painter has ever interpreted women in a more seductive manner. The deft and lively touches of Renoir's brush are charming, supple and unrestrained, making flesh transparent and tinting the cheeks and lops with a perfect living hue. Renoir's women are enchantresses' (T. Duret, reprinted in Histoire des peintres impressionnistes, Paris, 1922, p. 27).
Along with being one of the most important works from this period of Renoir's career, Les Deux soeurs is widely-regarded as the fore-runner of one of the most celebrated works of Impressionist painting, Jeunes filles au piano. About three years after Renoir completed the present painting, the French government commissioned the artist to create a large-scale work for the collection of the Musée du Luxembourg. The museum housed a collection of paintings from the most acclaimed living artists of the day, and the invitation to include Renoir's art was a supreme honour. For this important project, the artist returned to the theme of the two sisters. He reinterpreted the subject of La Leçon de piano and incorporated the intimate mood and modelling of Les Deux soeurs, producing several oil studies and the final Luxembourg composition which is now housed in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
Discussing the different versions of Jeunes filles au piano, John House noted that they relate to Renoir’s earlier 'pictures of the carefree recreations of pretty young bourgeois girls, presented in smooth and harmonious groupings [...] his chosen subjects also go beyond literal depiction; typical rather than specific, their slightly generalized forms are designed to evoke moods; it was this that enabled younger critics in symbolist circles to take up his art with such eloquent enthusiasm in the 1890s. Throughout the 1890s the innocence and prettiness of youth were the central theme of his art' (J. House, Renoir (exhibition catalogue), The Hayward Gallery, London; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris & Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1985, p. 262).