A Young Blonde Bather

Tuesday, May 28th 2024

by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Français, 1841-1919)

Bather, 1882

Oil on canvas.
Signed on the bottom right corner.
Stretcher keys. Numbered 21387, 92 and D3342.

H. 36 W. 22 cm.

Provenance: Ambroise Vollard's collection, Paris.
Art Loss Register Certificate, December 13, 2022.

- Ambroise Vollard, "Tableaux, pastels et dessins de Pierre-Auguste Renoir", Paris, 1918, t.1, p.113, nr. 449 ;
- François Daulte, "Auguste Renoir. Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint. I. Figures 1860-1890", Lausanne, Éd. Durand-Ruel, 1971, nr. 418 ;
- Guy Patrice et Michel Dauberville, "Renoir. Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles", Paris, Éd. Berheim-Jeune, p. 43, nr.1360.

The 1882 Young Blonde Bather

A new way of painting

This eye-catching bather is one of the very first in a long series of nude paintings, a favorite subject of Renoir in the 1880-1890s. Seen from the back, her large hips emphasized by a white dress modestly covering the lower part of her buttocks, the young woman’s blond hair and blue gaze grazing the horizon illuminates the top of the painting. Turned towards what seems to be the crest of a cliff, her youthful body highlighted by bluish shadows stands out against the wilderness, turning the viewer’s artistic experience into a source of sensuality and energy. Metamorphosed, Renoir is changing his style; this bather represents his new kind of painting and subject. For the second Impressionist Exhibition of 1876, Renoir had sent a first nude, "Étude, Torse effet de soleil" (“Study - Torso Sunlight Effect”, Musée d'Orsay, Paris). But while the unfinished aspect of the painting was perfectly in line with the aesthetics he was aiming for, the boldness of the subject frightened off the critics. Therefore, he devoted himself during the late 1870s to portraits and modern life scenes that climaxed in 1880-81 with the “Déjeuner des canotiers” (“Luncheon of the Boating Party”, Philipps Collection, Washington).

Painted with Cézanne or Monet

Following his first participation in the Official Salon and thanks to the portrait commissions he immersed himself in, Renoir’s wealth increased. In the fall of 1881, he decided to travel to Italy for the first time. Venice, Rome and Naples gave him the opportunity to personally experience the art of the masters he admired, most notably Raphael and Ingres. He took in the power of the line, the primacy of the human form and the simplicity of ancient subjects. It was in Capri, by the sea, that he made his first ambitious nude painting, “La Baigneuse Blonde I” (“Blonde Bather I, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown). Aline Charigot, who joined him at the end of the trip and whom he would marry a few years later, was probably his model. Renoir was in love. Suddenly uninhibited, he started painting nudes and exhibiting them. In January 1882, the artist made a stop on his way home to visit his friend Cézanne at L'Estaque, near Marseille, where both men worked together. In the heart of this mild winter, the painter succeeded in blending the lessons he had learned in Italy when confronted with the grandeur of Raphael's frescoes and the modernity he ardently defended with Cézanne. Our Bather may have been painted at that time, caught on the spot: its small size, cool tones, and rapid brushstrokes all point in that direction. Having caught pneumonia, Renoir returned to Algeria in the spring to nurse himself back to health, following in the footsteps of the Orientalists and Delacroix. He returned to l'Estaque in the summer of 1882, this time with his friend Claude Monet, to work on figures. Our Bather could also have been painted during this second Mediterranean stay, alongside the master of Impressionism.

From the Ambroise Vollard Collection

Renoir never parted with this painting, which he kept until the end of his life. The canvas was reframed, cut at the bottom and bound to a similar canvas - painted with a smoother brushstroke - to form one single painting. The horizontal dividing line in its lower quarter can clearly be seen on the photograph published in 1918, during the artist's lifetime, in the catalog proudly edited by his art dealer Ambroise Vollard. It is precisely on this second canvas that the artist chose to sign his name in the lower right-hand corner. Considered on its own, the painting of this young woman foreshadows the Seated Bathers of 1892 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and the Group Bathers of 1897 (Barnes Foundation, Merion). This first and rare painting of a childlike woman who is at the same time immersed in nature and standing out from it, completely oblivious of the viewer, calls to mind a spirit of innocence that would disappear with the curvy models staring unabashedly at the painter in the early 20th century. This Young Blonde Bather is therefore one of the very first of a long series of paintings cherished both by the painter and by his admirers, who would soon embrace the genre.
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