Renoir's splendid La Loge of 1874 is a smaller version of the iconic oil of the same date and title (fig. 1), now in the collection of the Courtauld Institute Galleries in London. Capturing the spirit that defined the avant-garde movement, La Loge has become one of the images most commonly associated with Impressionist painting. The scene depicts a bourgeois couple seated in their box at the Paris opera house, where the main attraction is dependant on one's point of view. In this composition, Renoir presents us with a female figure who looks directly at the viewer, while her male companion looks up towards another member of the audience rather than down towards the stage. The act of looking and being looked at were central concerns to the Impressionists as they documented scenes of modern life, and at the opera and ballet both the performers and audience were part of the pageantry.
Writing about the subject of theatre in Impressionist painting, Judith A. Barter observed: 'Of all the arts in nineteenth-century France, theatre was the most popular. To many it seemed that all of Paris lived at the theatre. Nowhere else could one experience such a lavish display of light, color, ornament, extravagance, and society. By far the most opulent theatre in Paris was the Opéra [fig. 3]' (J. A. Barter, in Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman (exhibition catalogue), The Art Institute of Chicago, 1998, p. 46). Renoir and his contemporaries including Degas and Mary Cassatt (fig. 2) were fascinated with the urban spectacle and found in theatre a rich source of inspiration. The loge or theatre box was at the time only affordable to the well-to-do members of society, and women would always sit at the front of the loge, with their male companion in the back. Unlike today, the lights during a performance were never completely extinguished, allowing the spectators not only to read a libretto, but also to watch other members of the audience.
Renoir's models for this composition were his brother Edmond Renoir and Nini, an attractive young model from Montmartre who posed for the aritst on several occasions. Whereas in other compositions Edmond played a prominent role, here Renoir relegates him to the shadows of the loge and illuminates his elegant companion. The bejewelled Nini, with her plunging neckline and lacy décolletage, is the embodiment of the modern parisienne, unperturbed in her dual role as spectator and spectacle. The richness of the pigment, primarily in the velvety stole of the female figure, is a striking and deliberate contrast to the pastel tones that are more commonly found in early Impressionist pictures. Amidst the darkness Nini appears to be illuminated by a warm golden glow, as indeed she would have been by the gas lamps of the opera.
The larger version of La Loge, in the collection of the Courtauld Institute Galleries in London, was included in the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1874. A year later, Renoir persuaded his other Impressionist colleagues to auction some of their work at a one-day event at the Hôtel Drouot. At that auction, the present work was sold to the collector Jean Dollfus, who kept it in his collection until 1912. It was eventually acquired by Robert Treat Paine II (1861-1943), the distinguished collector from Massachusetts. Paine was a descendant of Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814), a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and other members of his family were celebrated philanthropists and social reformers. Robert Treat Paine II built an outstanding collection of Impressionist and Modern masterpieces, including works by Monet, Degas and van Gogh, which were bequeathed to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
This work has been requested for the exhibition Renoir at the Theatre: Looking at 'La Loge', to be held at the Courtauld Gallery, London from 21st February until 25th May 2008.
Oil on canvas
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Renoir, 1913, no. 9
Paris, Salle de la Renaissance, OEuvres des XIXe et XXe siècles, 1929, no. 106
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Independent Painters of the Nineteenth Century, 1935, no. 41
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Renoir, 1937, no. 6, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Duveen Galleries, Centennial Loan Exhibition 1841-1941: Renoir, 1941, no. 11, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1875)
27 by 21cm. 10 5/8 by 8 1/4 in.
Julius Meier-Graefe, Auguste Renoir, Paris, 1912, illustrated p. 44
Octave Mirbeau, Renoir, Paris, 1913, illustrated p. 29
L'Art Moderne, Paris, 1919, vol. II, illustrated pl. 103
Paul Jamot, 'Renoir', in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, November 1923, illustrated p. 267
Helen Comstock, 'The Connoisseur in America', in The Connoisseur, vol. 100, September 1937, pp. 154-155
Reginal Howard Wilenski, Modern French Painters, New York, 1940, p. 33
John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1946, illustrated p. 270
André Chamson, Renoir, Lausanne, 1959, illustrated pl. 13
Merete Bodelsen, 'Early Impressionist Sales 1874-94', in The Burlington Magazine, London, 1968, pp. 334-335
François Daulte, Auguste Renoir. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Lausanne, 1971, vol. I, no. 115, illustrated
Elda Fezzi, L'Opera completa di Renoir nel periodo impressionista, 1869-1883, Milan, 1972, no. 124, illustrated p. 95
Libby O. Lumpkin (ed.), The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art: Impressionist and Modern Masters, Las Vegas, 1998, illustrated in colour p. 40
Sale: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 24th March 1875, lot 51
Jean Dollfus, Paris (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, Vente Dollfus, 2nd March 1912, lot 60)
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (purchased at the above sale)
Robert Treat Paine II, Boston (acquired by 1941)
Alan Cunningham, Brookline, Massachusetts (acquired by 1971)
Sale: Christie's, New York, 10th May 1989, lot 34
Mr & Mrs Stephen Wynn, Las Vegas
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002