Jeune Fille portant une Corbeille de Fleurs was one of the major achievements of Renoir's oeuvre during 1888. He painted no less than three versions of it: a lightly painted and rather sketchily realised canvas which was sold in these Rooms on 2 May 1969, lot 40 (illustrated in colour; Daulte 547). There are two more fully worked versions, the present work and one of similar dimensions in a private Swiss collection (Daulte 550). When the latter was exhibited in the Chefs d'oeuvre des Collections Suisses de Manet à Picasso at Lausanne in 1964, François Daulte wrote "En évoquant cette jeune fille en robe verte, qui nous regarde de ses yeux sombres et qui s'avance vers nous, les mains jointes et le buste legèrement incliné, Renoir nous propose une nouvelle image de la feminité. Cette image est sans doute impregnée de la mode et du goût d'une epoque, mais elle est surtout issue de la vision personnelle du peintre. Comme tous les grands artistes, Renoir a crée un nouvel univers qui lui appartient en propre."
1887 had been a year of crisis for Renoir. He had executed few pictures in a year during which he had been preoccupied with the execution of his Grandes Baigneuses (Daulte 514), the culminating work of his classicist "période ingresque". John House writes, "1888 marks the end of Renoir's most hermetic phase of technical experimentation, but the dilemmas which had come to a head in the mid-1880s continued to preoccupy him: how could he reconcile the direct study of nature with his desire to belong to an artistic tradition and combine the definition of form with the free play of coloured brushwork?
"His interests in past art now focussed less on the linearity of the Renaissance, but rather on Titian, Velazquez, Rubens, Rembrandt and Vermeer and most particularly on the art of the French eighteenth century and on Corot. These artists, in their different ways, shared two qualities that were central to Renoir's concerns: they all modelled form and suggested space with the brush, rather than separating painting from drawing, colour from line; and all found ways of transforming their close observation of the world around them into lasting pictorial form...Watteau and Fragonard became especially important for him in the late 1880s, as he worked his way out of the harshness of contour and rigidity of design of his 1887 Grandes Baigneuses. In 1888 he cited Fragonard to explain his efforts to soften and variegate his technique..."I have taken up again, never to abandon it, my old style, soft and light of touch...It is quite different from my recent landscapes...but with a slight difference caused by a note which I could not find, which I have finally put my hand on. Its nothing new, but rather a follow-up to the paintings of the eighteenth century. This is to give you some idea of my new and last manner of painting (like Fragonard only not so good) "...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. At the same time many of his outdoor subjects look to Fragonard or to Watteau's Fêtes galantes, in the ways in which outdoor figures and their surroundings are woven together by composition and touch, and figures in contemporary dress are made more timeless by their gestures and setting." (Renoir, exhibition catalogue, London, 1985, pp. 250, 254)
In response to these new concerns and inspirations, Renoir's colour range became more muted and delicate in its tonal variations and his brushwork became more unified. In Jeune Fille portant une Corbeille de Fleurs the shimmering, blue-greens of the landscape harmonise with the sharper accents of the basket of flowers and the brigher shades of the green waistband of the dress. The flesh tones are given a pearlescent quality wherein the smoothness and solidity of the forms are achieved by the suppression of individual brushstrokes. This pictorial unity suggests the rococo qualities of his French eighteenth century antecedents but is achieved in a style which is quintessentially Renoir.
It is with pictures such as Jeune Fille portant une Corbeille de Fleurs that Renoir once again established his reputation as a successful contemporary artist. His dealer Durand-Ruel had only purchased two pictures from Renoir in 1889 but having successfully sold the stylistically similar Les deux Soeurs (Daulte 562) for 2,100 FF in January 1890 he then bought no less than seventeen pictures from him during 1890. The other fully realised version of the present work (D. 550) was the most expensive of these, Renoir receiving 1,500 FF from Durand-Ruel on 25 November 1890. The present work was sold soon after on 28 January 1891 for 500 FF and was sent over to Durand-Ruel's newly established Manhattan gallery for display and subsequent sale to W. I. Cook for $1,000 a year later.
Jeune Fille portant une Corbeille de Fleurs exemplifies Octave Mirbeau's celebration of Renoir's qualities as a figure painter: "He is truly the painter of woman, in turn gracious and moved, knowing and simple, always elegant with an exquisite sensitiveness of eye, with caresses of the hand light as kisses, with visions profound as those of Stendhal. Not only does he portray delightfully the plastic forms of the body, the delicate modulations, the dazzling tones of young complexions, but he also paints the form of the soul and that inner music and captivating mystery which emanate from the woman. His figures, contrary to those of the majority of modern painters, are not congealed in paste; they sing, animated and alive - the whole gamut of light tones, all the melodies of colour, all the vibrations of light."
Maurice Denis in his review of the Renoir exhibition at Champ-de-Mars in 1892 wrote: "Idealist? Naturalist? Whichever you please. With his own personal methods he has concentrated on translating his own emotions, encompassing the whole of nature and the whole of his dream. The joys of his eyes have enabled him to compose marvellous bouquets of women and flowers." (La Revue Blanche, Paris, 25 June 1892)
Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Signed lower right Renoir, oil on canvas
Signed lower right Renoir, oil on canvas
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Collects, July-Sept. 1968, no. 192
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Renoir: The Gentle Rebel, Oct.-Nov. 1974, no. 39 (illustrated)
32 1/8 x 25 7/8in. (81.6 x 65.7cm.)
F. Daulte, Auguste Renoir, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Vol. I, Figures 1860-1890, Lausanne, 1971, no. 548 (illustrated)
Durand-Ruel, Paris, bought directly from the Artist on 28 January 1891 for 500 FF
Durand-Ruel, New York
W. I. Cook, New York, bought from the above on 19 March 1892 for $1,000 Durand-Ruel, New York, bought from the above on 16 March 1910
Mrs Nelson Robinson, New York, bought from the above on 12 December 1912 for $14,500
A. B. Hepburn, New York (exchanged with Mrs Robinson on 12 May 1915)
Cordelia Cushman, New York