Lot 3
  • 3

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Estimate
600,000 - 900,000 GBP
Sold
605,000 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  • Étude de femme
  • signed Renoir (upper right)
  • pastel on paper laid down on board

Provenance

Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the artist on 14th February 1881)

Mary Cassatt, Paris (acquired from the above on 5th April 1890)

Alexander J. Cassatt, Philadelphia (brother of the above)

Eliza J. Cassatt Stewart, Philadelphia (by descent from the above in 1906)

Katherine Kelso de Spoelberch, Vicomtesse de Spoelberch (née Stewart), U.S.A. & Belgium (by descent from the above. Sold by the executors of her estate: Christie’s, New York, 8th November 2000, lot 14)

Purchased at the above sale by the late owner

Catalogue Note

A striking example of Renoir’s work in pastel, Étude de femme is full of the lively charm and character that placed Renoir among the most celebrated portraitists of his generation. Renoir’s particular skill in this respect was recognised by his contemporaries and often commented on. In 1884 French journalist and art critic Octave Mirbeau wrote: ‘He is truly the painter of women, alternately gracious and moving, knowing and simple, and always elegant, with an exquisite visual sensibility, a touch as light as a kiss, a vision as penetrating as that of Stendhal. Not only does he give a marvellous sense of the physique, the delicate relief and dazzling tones of young complexions, he also gives a sense of the form of the soul, all woman’s inward musicality and bewitching mystery. Contrary to the majority of modern painters, his figures are not frozen over by layers of paint; animated and vivacious they sing out the whole range of bright tones, all the melodies of colour, all the vibrations of light… I do not understand why all women do not have their portraits painted by this exquisite artist’ (O. Mirbeau quoted in Renoir (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthalle, Tübingen, 1996, p. 165).

Initially, these beguiling portraits of women were completed as part of paid commissions, but in the 1870s Renoir also began to produce numerous portraits of unidentified women – often fashionable young women at leisure – in which he began to focus less on the traditional aspects of formal portraiture and more on the development of his technique. Colin B. Bailey describes these girls: ‘At some remove from his commissioned portraits, however informal, are the plentiful genre paintings of the 1870s that show provocatively posed young women in domestic, if ill-defined settings… Renoir’s “preferred types” were “dressmaker’s assistants, laundresses, milliners, the glistening flora of the working-class gutter,” shown teasing their pets, abandoned in sleep, half-heartedly sewing, or gazing brazenly at the viewer… Thus were the adolescents of Montmartre transformed into amiable Parisiennes, whose modernity and plebeian allure found favour both with Durand-Ruel and with Renoir’s progressive collectors’ (C. B. Bailey, Renoir’s Portraits: Impressions of an Age (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1997, p. 13). The pose of the sitter in the present work, with her face turned enquiringly away from the viewer, is one that Renoir often used in his portraits of young Parisian women, and it relates to an oil-painting executed in 1877 (fig. 1). The studied spontaneity of her attitude and the interest that the artist has taken in her fashionable attire suggest that she belongs to this group and is one of the many nameless sitters that Renoir depicted throughout the 1870s and over the following decades.

Renoir worked in pastel throughout his life and its powdery effervescence was well-suited to his singular style. Pastel allowed him to reconcile the fresh spontaneity afforded by drawing, with the colour that was so fundamental to his art. François Daulte suggests: ‘If he frequently used that medium to depict those near and dear to him, it was because pastel, which combines colour with line, gave him the possibility of working rapidly to capture in all their vividness the rapid flash of intelligence and the fleeting show of emotion’ (F. Daulte, Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Water-colours, pastels, and drawings in colour, London, 1959, p. 10). This blend of spontaneity and intimacy makes his work in pastel among his most engaging (figs. 2 & 3) and in Étude de femme the choice of medium imbues the work with a lively energy and a wonderful sense of texture and depth.

Étude de femme was acquired from Durand-Ruel by the artist Mary Cassatt. A key member of the Impressionist group and important patron in her own right, Cassatt's own work shared Renoir's brilliant palette and intimate depiction of the female sitters. This work was then inherited by her brother Alexander J. Cassatt who was the seventh president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, responsible for extending the Pennsylvania Railroad into New York City, and brother of the Impressionist artist Mary Cassatt. The painting subsequently passed to his granddaughter Eliza Cassatt Stewart, remaining with the Cassatt family until 2000. 

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