Painted in 1884, L'été; Jeune femme dans champ fleuri is a light-soaked invocation of summer, and at the same time serves as a celebration of Renoir's favourite subject-matter-- the woman. This is a great portrait in the high Impressionist style, filled with a symphony of colour and dappled light that infuses the painting with life and a distinct musicality. The model in this picture is in fact Aline Charigot, already the artist's mistress, who the following year would give birth to his first child, Pierre, and whom he would marry in 1890. During the summer of 1884, Renoir travelled with Aline to the Bay of Biscay and La Rochelle, and there painted a sequence of works that took advantage of the seasonal light and the beautiful highly-coloured landscape. Here, he manages to place this depiction of his lover within a context of scenery, creating an intriguing union of genres, of landscape and portraiture.
This combination of landscape and the woman's figure allows Renoir a wide scope to explore the lushness of the various textures and light effects at work in the scene. A faint haze is even invoked in his characteristic feathered brushstrokes, which fill the picture with a sense of breezy movement while making the flesh and skin of Aline appear all the more youthful. These brushstrokes fill the painting with life, the energy of their application heightening the sense of spontaneity, of a moment captured. This provides a contrast to the more Ingres-esque style that had come to flavour some of his paintings of this period, marking a return instead to the more characteristic and idiosyncratic Renoir. In keeping with his desire to capture the beauty of the world with honesty, there is a disarming frankness to this personification of summer, a humble quality that is unimposing, that punctures the grandiosity still favoured by so many of his contemporaries, and that allows us to enjoy instead a personification made fully credible, rendered in believable, all too human flesh and blood.
During 1884, Renoir had had a number of set-backs. Although the previous year had seen his first ever one-man exhibition, held at Durand-Ruel's, it had not met with the success or attention that had been hoped, and he found himself teetering once more towards financial instability. Although he had steadily gained recognition over the previous years both within and without the Salon and its followers, purchases and patronage had both diminished. This was in many ways beyond his control: he, his dealer Durand-Ruel and many of the potential buyers had been hit by a financial crash two years earlier, and Renoir had also been gravely and almost fatally ill that year. Despite the lack of income and the loss even of his more regular patrons, he was still faced with mounting bills for his studio, accommodation and other factors. Included amongst these other factors was doubtless Aline. With this in mind, Renoir tried to avoid the costly living in Paris as much as possible, holidaying and travelling a great deal both during the winter and the summer of 1884.
These travels, and those of the previous couple of years, had given Renoir a huge range of landscapes to play with. During the early 1880s, he had travelled, with or without Monet, to the South of France, to Bordighera, Jersey and to Guernsey, and even to North Africa. In these varied locations, he exposed himself to a wondrous variety of themes, but also to a variety of light effects which resulted in his new manner of looking at landscape, and his great improvements in that area. The influences that helped him varied hugely, from the harsh African light to his wonder at the pictures that Cézanne was painting when he stayed with him at L'Estaque.
Both in its use of the dominant landscape and in its lush and sunny appearance, L'été; Jeune femme dans champ fleuri reflects his constant optimism. Renoir seldom despaired, and this picture certainly conveys an intense appreciation of life, which he has embraced with enthusiasm here in both the depiction of nature in its verdant glory and of the sitter herself. Indeed, the paintings of 1884, which marked a significant alteration in Renoir's style and ideas, show that rather than being dragged down by his problems, they propelled him instead towards new developments, adversity spurring him on. At the same time, Aline's company-- the pair were a famously intense and loving couple-- is doubtless reflected in the painting's disposition.
When Berthe Morisot's daughter, Julie Manet, who for some time was one of Renoir's students, met her teacher's wife over a decade later, she noted in her diary Aline's description of her first encounter with the artist: 'The first time she saw Monsieur Renoir, he was accompanied by Monsieur Monet and Sisley. All three wore their hair long and just watching them walk by was an event in the rue Saint-Georges, where she was living at the time' (J. Manet, quoted in C.B. Bailey (ed.), Renoir's Portraits: Impressions Of An Age, exh.cat., New Haven and London, 1997, p. 212). This provides an intriguing picture of the young bucks of Impressionism, strutting their stuff through the streets of Paris, already a source of interest both in their unkempt manner and for their status as revolutionary artists. Their first meeting apparently took place in a dairy; certainly, Renoir often approached women in the less affluent areas of Paris in search of potential models, and this may have led him to speak to her then. Within a short time, they were lovers.
Julie Manet's mother, the Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot, was less charitable in her description of Aline: 'I cannot convey my astonishment on meeting this woman, who was so buxom that, I don't know why, I saw her as being like one of her husband's paintings' (B. Morisot, quoted in S. Monneret, Renoir, trans. E. Read, London, 1990, p. 102). Of course, it is possible that this was precisely the quality that led Renoir to her, and certainly she appears as the perfect Muse for his tastes in L'été; Jeune femme dans champ fleuri. While some people were charmed by this seamstress and her un-genteel, occasionally coarse ways, to Renoir these were a source of fascination and precisely the unvarnished qualities he sought in his paintings (although during the earlier years of their relationship he was often reportedly embarrassed at presenting her to his more bourgeois friends). This fascination was clearly physical too, as is reflected in his depictions of her: although she apparently posed for only three true portraits during her life, most notably the one painted the year after the present lot, which is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, she provided a much-valued model in many other of his masterpieces, not least 1883's La danse à la campagne in the Musée d'Orsay. She had featured as early as 1881 in his famous painting Le déjeuner des canotiers in the Phillips Collection.
Morisot's comment on the similarity between Aline and the women who had long peopled Renoir's paintings provides an insight into Renoir's own search for the ideal woman. It was in many ways his depictions of women that were most appreciated in Paris, as had been mentioned in Théodore Duret's preface to the 1883 exhibition:
'... we recognise at first sight the ability to paint woman in all her grace and delicacy... The artist has fully displayed this gift of charm from the beginning, and it is in his ability as a painter and a colourist that we must observe his progress and development. We see him acquiring an increasingly broad and personal touch, imparting more and more flexibility to his figures, surrounding them with more and more air, bathing them in more and more light; we see him constantly accentuating his colouring and finally succeeding in effortlessly achieving the most daring combinations of colours' (Duret, quoted in B.E. White, Renoir: His Life, Art and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 132).
This emphasis on the combination of Renoir's increasingly deft colourism and his incredible effort to capture the character, form and crucially also voluptuousness of his female subjects is well reflected in the accomplished manner in which he has rendered Aline in the present picture. In the same year that this picture was painted, Octave Mirbeau reiterated this, declaring in an article published in La France that Renoir 'is truly the painter of women, alternatively gracious and moved, 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' (Mirbeau, quoted in N. Wadley (ed.), Renoir: A Retrospective, New York, 1987, p. 165).
Interestingly, these celebrations of Renoir's ability to depict women with an almost idealised beauty both chime with and yet are incongruous in the context of the artist's own increasing preoccupation with 'Irregularity' during this period. For at the time, in part inspired to rebel against the all too scientific methods of the Neo-Impressionists and especially Georges Seurat, Renoir briefly plotted the foundation of a new Salon that would provide a contrast, presenting the world instead with art and objets d'art which were informed by the same irregularity that made nature so wondrous in its variety. Laying out his plans, Renoir explained that true beauty did not lie in an ideal, but instead in a more honest perspective that celebrated nature's flaws:
'Observers certainly know that despite the apparent simplicity of the laws governing their formation, works of nature are infinitely varied, from the most important to the least, no matter what their species or family. The two eyes of the most beautiful face will always be slightly unlike; no nose is placed exactly above the centre of the mouth; the quarters of an orange, the leaves of a tree, the petals of a flower are never identical; it thus seems that every kind of beauty draws its charm from this diversity' (Renoir, quoted in White, op.cit., 1984, p. 132).
The thoughts behind his idea of forming the Societé des Irrégularistes manifest themselves in various ways in L'été; Jeune femme dans champ fleuri. The off-centre composition, the deliberate play with scale that allows her to appear dwarfed by the greenery and even the combination of the landscape and portrait genres all provide an irregularity that makes the painting all the more arresting and refreshing. Meanwhile, the tree, flowers, leaves all have been painted with what the viewer can believe is an honesty. Even the varying tones and density of the paint accentuate this, showing the benefit of the experiments that Renoir was conducting during this period.
A combination of the artist's desire to innovate, which sometimes alienated his regular buyers, and the general state of finances in France during the 1880s meant that several of Renoir's regular buyers had ceased to purchase his work on such a regular basis. Not least amongst these was Paul Bérard, a connoisseur and collector who had retired early from a diplomatic career and who was one of the earliest owners of L'été; Jeune femme dans champ fleuri. In the years leading up to the execution of the present picture, Bérard had purchased dozens of paintings by Renoir, reflecting his crucial importance as a patron to the artist. Bérard and Renoir were also firm friends, as was reflected in the posthumous publication of their throughout the world.
L'été; Jeune femme dans un champ fleuri
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'Renoir. 84.' (lower left)
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, P.A. Renoir, May 1892, no. 61.
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Renoir, November - December 1920, no. 17.
Paris, Pavillon de Marsan, Le Décor de la Vie sous la IIIe République, April - July 1933, no. 286.
Paris, Musée national de l'Orangerie, Renoir, 1933, no. 73.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Summer Loan Exhibition, 1966, no. 149.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York collects, 1968, no. 180.
New York, Wildenstein Gallery, Renoir, March - May 1969, no. 55 (illustrated in colour).
New York, Wildenstein Gallery, Renoir the gentle Rebel, 1974, no. 33 (illustrated).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
32 x 26 in. (81.3 x 66 cm.)
T. Bernard, 'Jos. Hessel', in La Renaissance, Paris, January 1930, (illustrated p. 11).
F. Daulte, 'Renoir, son oeuvre regardé sous un angle d'un album de famille', in Connaissance des Arts, Paris, November 1964 (illustrated p. 7, pl. 6).
F. Daulte, 'Vive Renoir', in Art News, New York, April 1969 (illustrated p. 33).
F. Daulte, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint. Les Figures (1860 - 1890), vol I, Lausanne, 1971, no. 465 (illustrated).
F. Daulte, Renoir, Paris, 1972, (illustrated p. 79).
E. Fezzi, L'Opera completa di Renoir nel periodo impressionista 1869 - 1883, Milan, 1972, no. 601 (illustrated p. 116).
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris.
Paul Bérard, Paris; his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 8-9 May 1905, lot 29.
Jos. Hessel, Paris, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York.
Mr & Mrs Henry Ittleson, Jr, New York, by whom acquired from the above 8 February 1954.
Acquavella Galleries, New York.
Mr & Mrs Josef Rosensaft, New York.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, New York, 17 March 1976, lot 12.