- Pierre-Auguste Renoir
- LÉONTINE LISANT
- signed Renoir (lower right)
- oil on canvas
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above on 26th December 1919)
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above on 22nd July 1920)
H.D. Hughes, New York (acquired from the above on 23rd July 1920)
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above on 30th December 1926; until at least 1949)
Sale: Christie's, New York, 12th May 1993, lot 8
Sale: Christie's, New York, 30th April, 1996, lot 39
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, 8th May 2002, lot 17
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Loan Exhibition of Portraits by Renoir, 1939, no. 19
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, The Development of Impressionism, 1940, no. 63, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Duveen Galleries, Renoir, 1941, no. 84, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Gabrielle Reading and as dating from circa 1917)
François Fosca, Renoir, His Life and Work, London, 1961, illustrated p. 151 (titled Gabrielle Reading and as dating from 1890)
A beautiful example of Renoir's late portraiture, the present work depicts Léontine, a young woman who came to work for the Renoir family shortly after the birth of the artist's youngest son Claude in 1900. More often than not, these housemaids and nurses became favourite models for the ageing artist, as was the case with Léontine. One of her predecessors, the celebrated Gabrielle, posed for many figure studies and nudes that occupied Renoir to an increasing extent after 1900 (fig. 2). The present work adopts the format of a half-length figure seated at a table that had been used in a series of memorable pictures of Gabrielle and the infant Jean in the mid-1890s. Showing Léontine absorbed in her reading, seemingly unaware of being observed, Renoir has nevertheless painted a subtly provocative portrait, exposing the woman's sensuality, the beauty of her facial features and of her body that so fully and confidently dominates the composition.
The present work is closely related to Léontine et Coco (Claude Renoir) of 1909 (fig. 1), in which Renoir depicted the young Léontine reading, perhaps seated at the same table, this time accompanied by the artist's son Coco. Her rich dark hair is tied by the same pink ribbon, and she wears the same dress, painted in opulent red, the artist's favourite colour at the time. In Léontine lisant, Renoir depicted the maid alone, seated against a wall on which there appears to be hanging a Renoir landscape. This inclusion of a painting within a painting is a frequent feature in the artist's works of this period.
Renoir probably captured the scene of the present work in his house in the south of France, which had been built to satisfy his own physical needs and to accommodate his large family and frequent visitors. In 1906 he bought 'Les Collettes', a large estate at Cagnes, where he spent the rest of his life. It was there that he painted a number of outdoor scenes in which he recreated the idyllic lifestyle of the countryside, as well as portraits of various members of his household. By this time Renoir had achieved significant acclaim and financial independence, and as he was no longer obliged to paint commissioned portraits, he cherished the opportunities to paint the timeless quality of rural life and intimate portraits of those who surrounded him. Among his most successful works of this time where those depicting his children reading or playing, including some large-scale oils such as Claude Renoir en clown (fig. 3).
Fascinated by the artist's exquisite rendering of female portraits, Théodore Duret remarked: '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 woman 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 lips with a perfect living hue. Renoir's women are enchantresses' (T. Duret, reprinted in Histoire des peintres impressionnistes, Paris, 1922, pp. 27-28).
By this stage of his career, Renoir had moved away from the Impressionist style of the previous decades, and found a new source of inspiration in painters such as Titian and Rubens. Whilst very conscious of the achievements of the old masters, he continued to stress the role of spontaneity in his art. Walter Pach, the American painter and writer, visited Renoir in Cagnes between 1908 and 1922 and asked him: 'When you have laid in the first tones, do you know, for example, which others must follow? Do you know to what extent a red or a green must be introduced to secure your effect?' Renoir replied: 'No I don't; that is the procedure of an apothecary, not of an artist. I arrange my subject as I want it, then I go ahead and paint it, just like a child. I want a red to be sonorous, to sound like a bell; if it doesn't turn out that way, I put more reds or other colours till I get it. [...] there are myriads of tiny tints. I must find the ones that will make the flesh on my canvas live and quiver' (W. Pach, Queer Thing Painting, 1938, reprinted in Nicholas Wadley (ed.). Renoir. A Retrospective, New York, 1987, p. 244).
Fig. 1, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Léontine et Coco (Claude Renoir), 1909, oil on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 13th November 1990
Fig. 2, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gabrielle à la rose, 1911, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fig. 3, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Renoir en clown, 1909, oil on canvas, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris