This work will be included in the Renoir catalogue critique being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute from the François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein archives.
Ambroise Vollard, Paris
Sam Salz, New York (circa 1950)
Arthur Tooth & Sons, London (circa 1960)
Lord Jersey, Longueville, Jersey (acquired the above circa 1965-1970; and thence by descent to the previous owner)
London, Arts Council, Old Masters from Jersey Collections, no. 34
London, Kleinwort Benson, Hidden Treasures of Jersey, 1972
Ambroise Vollard, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Tableaux, Pastels & Dessins, Paris,1918, no. 645, illustrated p. 163
Francois Daulte, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Catalogue Raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Figures, Lausanne, 1971, no. 370, illustrated
Renoir and Algeria (exhibition catalogue), Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; Dallas Museum of Art; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, 2003-04, illustrated p. 93 (incorrectly catalogued)
Guy-Patrice & Michel Dauberville, Renoir, Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles, vol. I, Paris, 2007, no. 384, illustrated p. 410
The mystique of North Africa captured the imagination of the most daring painters of the 19th century. The subject that was most sought out by these artists were depictions of women, who, for reasons of modesty and inaccessibility, were rarely available to pose. Renoir encountered this very challenge on his first trip to Algeria in 1881, when he painted the present work. "Here I am more or less installed in Algiers and in negotiations with some Arabs to find models," the artist wrote to Durand-Ruel. "I have also seen some pretty women. But I'll tell you later if I have succeeded. I still need a few days before getting down to work. I'm making use of it by searching [for sitters], and as soon as I'm in form I want to do as many figures as possible and send back, if I can, some unusual things" (quoted in R. Benjamin, Renoir and Algeria (exhibition catalogue) op. cit., p. 81).
The allure of Renoir's elusive subject is captured in this splendidly colorful depiction from 1881, which depicts the model in full view. Although Renoir had focused on the theme of the Odalisque in the 1870s, he had only conceived of those compositions in his studio, having no access to the authentic experience. Now, having seen many Mugrahbi women while wandering the streets of the port city, his vision of the women of Algiers was much more true to life. The figure here, as in his other Algerian portraits of this time, needs none of the accoutrements of the harem to call attention to her exoticism.
The model who posed for the present work is believed to be the same as the woman in a portrait formerly in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Roger Benjamin points out the notable European traits of the model, including her 'spit-curl', mantilla and black chemise, and suggests that she may very well have been someone of Spanish descent from the working class quarters of la Marine and Bab el-Oued. In fact, because Renoir had difficulty finding women who would agree to model for him, he may have even confabulated some of these women, basing them on sketches from his notebook and later rendering them in oil versions when he returned to his studio in Paris.
Describing Renoir's possible progress on another portrait of an Algerian woman from 1881, Benjamin writes: "Although it is usually assumed Renoir's adolescent sitter was an Algerian person, this is impossible to establish firmly. If the sitter was neither French nor pied-noir (Algerian-born French), she may have been from the Jewish community or even of Berber or Arab background without Renoir having managed to characterize her exactly as such. Instead, he assimilates her to the peaches-and-cream complexion and chubby physiognomy he used for Parisian girls, simply darkening her eyebrowns and hair a little" (ibid., p. 84).
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