Mrs William Putnam, Boston (acquired from the above in December 1910)
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York
Arnold Kirkeby, New York (sold: Parke-Bernet, New York, 19th November 1958, lot 15)
Farkas Foundation, New York (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Christie's, New York, 15th May 1979, lot 13)
Purchased at the above sale by the father of the present owners
New York, Durand-Ruel, Paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1908, no. 33
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fogg Art Museum, 1937-1948 (on loan)
Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Venetian Tradition, 1956-57, no. 35, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Renoir, 1958, no. 34, illustrated in the catalogue
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, 1972, no. F. 21
Julius Meier-Graefe, Renoir, Leipzig, 1929, no. 230, illustrated p. 240 (as dating from 1892)
Elda Fezzi, L’opera completa di Renoir nel periodo impressionista 1869-1883, Milan, 1972, no. 666, illustrated p. 119 (as dating from 1892)
Elda Fezzi & Jacqueline Henry, Tout l'œuvre peint de Renoir, période impressionniste 1869-1883, Paris, 1985, no. 471, illustrated p. 109
Guy-Patrice & Michel Dauberville, Renoir, Catalogue raisonné des tableaux,
pastels, dessins et aquarelles, Paris, 2007, vol. 1, no. 165, illustrated p. 219
During his time there Renoir also travelled down the coast, visiting Sorrento and the neighbouring Bay of Salerno and painting a number of views inspired by the surrounding countryside. As with his luminous depictions of Venice (fig. 1) and Naples, Un Jardin à Sorrente shows Renoir absorbing the particular climate of the region. Using the distinctive parallel brushstrokes that he developed in the works of this period, Renoir evokes the soft light and tonal harmonies of the Mediterranean landscape, focusing less on rendering precise detail, than on capturing the atmosphere of the place.
Whilst Un Jardin à Sorrente shares the luminosity of these paintings, the subject marks it out as distinct from the other works that date from this period. Rather than depicting the celebrated canals and palazzos of Venice or the bustling port of Naples, Renoir creates a pastoral idyll that belongs more to Italy’s classical past. This may in part have been inspired by his experience of seeing Raphael’s frescoes in the Villa Farnesina in Rome and the murals of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but it also calls to mind a later generation of classical painters. The heavy canopy of trees, traditional perspective leading to a vanishing point on the distant horizon, and the inclusion of the figures in the foreground recall the work of the great Baroque painters Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin (fig. 2). In this respect Un Jardin à Sorrente anticipates a new interest in reconciling modern art with the classical tradition of French painting that would occupy Renoir for much of the following decade. In the present work Renoir combines the timelessness of the subject with the soft handling and expressive colouring that were the hallmarks of his Impressionist painting.
Writing to Madame Charpentier in 1882, Renoir described the effects of this Italian sojourn: ‘I studied the museum in Naples a lot, the paintings from Pompeii are extremely interesting from all points of view, and so I stay in the sun, not to do portraits in broad daylight, but by warming up and doing a lot of looking, I will, I think, have gained that grandeur and simplicity of the ancient painters. Raphael, who didn’t work outdoors, had nevertheless studied sunlight since his frescoes are full of it. Thus having seen the outdoors so much, I ended up seeing only the great harmonies without caring any more about small details that extinguish sunlight instead of making it blaze’ (quoted in Barbara Ehrlich White, Renoir. His Life, Art and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 115).
The work once belonged to the American hotelier and art collector Arnold Kirkeby (1901-1962). Amassed largely during the 1940s and 1950s, Kirkeby’s collection was expansive, including works by modern masters such as Picasso and Modigliani as well as Impressionist and Post-Impressionist oils by Pissarro, Signac and Vlaminck. Un Jardin à Sorrente was among a number of paintings sold in a fêted auction at Parke-Bernet in 1958. One of the most significant auctions of the period, the sale attracted huge media and public attention, with over 10,000 people viewing the pre-sale exhibition.
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