This work will be included in the second supplement to the Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles de Pierre-Auguste Renoir being prepared by Guy Patrice Dauberville and Floriane Dauberville.
In Femme au jardin, Renoir's dexterity as an Impressionist portraitist is evident in the deft handling of the loose brushstrokes in the background in contrast with the greater precision applied to his subject's face, drawing the viewer's gaze to the figure's eyes. Renoir's characteristically ethereal handling of atmosphere and shadow produces subtle variations of color combined in his fluid brushstrokes, endowing the image with flexibility, finesse and harmony. The chromatic range is entirely representative of this period of Renoir’s output. Dominated by a range of bright and modulated tones of greens and blues, this palette underscores Renoir's understanding of the natural variations of light. The figure’s face emerges subtly from a vibrant and hazy background, yet her central presence at the forefront of the picture plane underscores Renoir's virtuosity for endowing his portraits with physical presence.
Renoir’s treatment of the striped fabric in the present work personifies his increasingly liberated brushwork, suggesting an ephemerality and marking a change from the more formal aesthetic tendencies that had dominated his work of the 1880s. Whereas he had previously been inspired by the elegant and restrained lines of the Renaissance Old Masters, at this time he became increasingly interested in the fashionably costumed subjects of the eighteenth-century masters François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard (see fig. 2), as John House explains: “His brushwork of the 1890s retains Fragonard’s imprint in its increasingly rhythmic, cursive movements, which model form and create decorative pattern in the same gesture… He was preoccupied with finding a definitive, simple range of colours for his palette which would serve every need, in his obsessive concern with mastering the craft of painting” (John House, “Renoir’s World,” in Renoir (exhibition catalogue), The Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 250).
In 1885 Renoir fathered a child, Pierre, with Aline Victorine Charigot, a dressmaker twenty years his junior, and eventually married her in 1890 (see fig. 3). Pierre’s birth would catalyze Renoir’s affinity for depicting youthful sitters—both his children and those of friends and family—as subjects for his portraits. The vibrant colors and liveliness of Femme au jardin are a testament to Renoir’s state of happiness with his own affairs and a heightened interest in fashion, perhaps attributable to his couturière companion. The son of a bespoke tailor and dressmaker, Renoir’s interest in costume and clothing is evident from his earliest portraits of the modish women of Paris, and he was known to commission elaborate hats made especially for his models (see fig. 4). As similarly expressed in the art of Impressionist including Édouard Manet and Frédéric Bazille, and later the Nabis including Édouard Vuillard, the figure’s finery in Impressionist portraiture often serves as secondary yet significant subject matter in and of itself (see fig. 5).
While Renoir depicts dress and hat with extraordinary elegance, the sitter in Femme au jardin is hardly formally clad, and indeed decidedly at ease in her surroundings. The present work personifies what fashion historian Dr. Justine Young’s points to as a radically important divergence in the art historical canon, explaining that “Especially prevalent among the Impressionist’s subjects were women seen casually lounging, dressed not for the public but resting comfortably at home. Such scenes were pointedly not chic—or not solely so—instead representing relaxed moments of everyday life. The women depicted are observed not by le monde, the fashionable outside the world, but by family and intimate friends. They exist in private, seemingly protected spaces, not posing so much as pausing. The painters of these portraits captured quiet, quotidian moments of contemplation of actual, not ideal, women. The women wear simple, everyday dresses, likely from their own wardrobes and made in consultation with their local dress makers, rather than the more elaborate high fashion seen in public settings…these sitters are most often shown alone and unoccupied. Modeled by family and friends, Impressionist portraits challenge conventions of portraiture, while also experimenting with new pictorial strategies” (Justine de Young, “Fashion and Intimate Portraits,” in Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity (exhibition catalogue), Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2013, p. 108).
Further, Femme au jardin has a notable and fascinating provenance. It was twice in the possession of Alex Reid & Earnest Lefevre, two of the pre-eminent dealers in Impressionist paintings in the United Kingdom, and it was later owned by Jean & Louis Dreyfus. The painting was bequest to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1971.
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