Renoir’s Last Model

Tuesday, April 23rd 2024

by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Français, 1841-1919)

Andrée au chignon (Andrée with a hair bun), 1919

Oil on canvas.
Workshop stamp on bottom left corner.

H. 30.4 W. 28 cm.

Provenance: Renoir's succession; former collection of the Bernheim-Jeune Galerie, Paris, 1919.
Art Loss Register Certificate dated April 19, 2024.

Recommendation for inclusion into the painter's catalogue critique issued but the Wildenstein Institute on March 27, 2015.

- "L'atelier de Renoir, tome II", Bernheim Jeune , Paris, 1931, pl 227, nr. 719 ;
- Guy-Patrice et Michel Dauberville, "Catalogue raisonné des tableaux pastels, dessins et aquarelles 1911-1919", Berheim-Jeune, 2014, on p 359, nr. 4248.

Renoir's last portrait, by Aymeric Rouillac

The last portrait to be published in Bernheim Jeune's 1931 retrospective catalogue « L’atelier de Renoir » (« Renoir’s Workshop ») at number 719, this painting is only followed by the master's final work, "Les Pommes” (“Apples”), which he painted two days before his death. The young woman featured on this painting is a 19-year-old redhead who brightened the final years of the life of the old man now crippled by arthritis, immobilized in his wheelchair and whose fingers had to be strapped to his brush so he could paint. Madeleine Heuschling (1900-1979), better known as Andrée, entered Renoir's life in 1915 on the recommendation of Matisse who, upon meeting this model of unusual beauty for the first time at the Ecole d'art décoratif in Nice, had been troubled by her resemblance to "a Renoir". Following in Gabrielle’s footsteps, Andrée soon became the painter's muse, who exclaimed: "How beautiful she is! I exhausted my old eyes on her young skin and saw that I was not a master, but a child".

A tremendous cry of love

With Dédée, Renoir continued his tireless quest for feminine sensuality: a measly rose in her hair became an allegory of beauty; the nature in which she posed in the nude, an evocation of imaginary Antiquity. In 1916, after his wife died, Renoir returned to Paris where his war-wounded son Jean was convalescing. The young man also fell under the spell of Andrée, about whom he wrote in his memoirs: "Light bounced off her skin even less than of any of Renoir’s previous models. She sang fashionable songs slightly out of tune... was cheerful, and wrapped my father in the invigorating fragrance of her blossoming youth. Andrée was one of the living elements that helped Renoir transpose onto canvas the prodigious love cry he uttered at the end of his life."

A muse for the father... and his son!

Back at the Collettes Estate in Cagnes-sur-Mer, sittings went on. Andrée was the inspiration behind Renoir's last great painting, adorned with diluted forms and vibrant colors: Les Baigneuses (The Bathers), which was offered to France by his sons (1918-19, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, RF 2795). The artist died at home on December 3, 1919 but not before immortalizing Dédée in this final portrait, with her hair piled high on her head, her blue gaze turning to the right and her intent smile set against a background of greenery. Renoir paid particular attention to her face, leaving the background bare in places or painted with broad brushstrokes, in a sort of intimate tribute to his last model. Less than two months after his death, Andrée became Madame Renoir: his son Jean married her in January 1920, with plans to turn her into a movie star, under the Catherine Hessling screen name. After being an inspiration for the master painter during the final years of his life, the young woman from Nice became the muse of a flamboyant pioneer of the French movie scene!
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