Auguste Renoir - Mademoiselle Grimprel in a blue ribbon 1880

Mademoiselle Grimprel in a blue ribbon 1880
Mademoiselle Grimprel in a blue ribbon. Yvonne Grimprel
1880 oil/canvas
Private collection

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From Christie's auction house:
Painted in 1880, Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban rouge (Hélène Grimprel) dates from the brief highpoint of Renoir's portrait painting. It was between the years of 1878 and 1881 that Renoir painted many of the greatest of his portraits, and indeed gained, albeit for a short time, some financial security because of it. This was the period of such works as Madame Georges Charpentier et ses enfants, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, his enchanting Portrait de Mlle Irène Cahen d'Anvers, now in the Fondation Bührle, Zurich and the first of his series of insightful portraits of Paul Bérard and his family at the Château de Wargemont, several of which grace the walls of museum collections throughout the world. While Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban rouge has not been shown in public for four decades, it is a telling indication of its quality, and indeed of Renoir's own opinion of it, that it was exhibited twice during his own lifetime, as well as being included in several shows subsequently. This painting has a lightness of touch, a vibrancy and a vitality in the feathered brushstrokes, the depiction of the fleshtones and the intense play with colours that heighten the sense of character of the sitter, Hélène Grimprel. Renoir's skills as an Impressionist portraitist are clear in the glorious fluidity with which he has rendered the various details, especially the red ribbons of the title.

Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban rouge. Hélène Grimprel
Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban rouge.
Hélène Grimprel
1880 44x35cm oil/canvas
Private collection

It was at the Paris Salon of 1879 that Renoir showed Madame Georges Charpentier et ses enfants, which he had painted the previous year, to such great acclaim. Renoir had long sought to gain the approval of the Salon, and sometimes felt that he had compromised his chances of success in this field through his leading role with the Impressionists. His awareness of this issue that led to his avoiding showing his own works in the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition, also in 1879, having been a leading participant in the previous three. While his smaller works were shown to no advantage in the 1879 Salon, Madame Georges Charpentier et ses enfants was in a prominent position and gained favourable reviews in the press.
Through the Charpentier family, in fact, in 1878, Renoir had been introduced to one of his most important clients: Paul Bérard. During this period, and through the network of friends of Charpentier and Bérard alike, Renoir came into contact with a new generation of significant patrons, meeting them in Paris and at the Château de Wargemont, Bérard's country home near Dieppe in Normandy. Through Bérard, Renoir came into contact with Armand Grimprel, who commissioned the artist to paint portraits of his three grandchildren, Maurice, Yvonne and Hélène. Armand Grimprel was one of Bérard's main banking associates in the Bérard-Grimprel Bank; his son Georges was also involved in banking, as well as being an Inspector of Finances and then Director General of the insurance company La Nationale; this was a position to which Maurice, Hélène's brother, would also later rise. Hélène would later marry Edmond Toutain, conseiller-maître in the Cour des Comptes, or Court of Auditors.
Renoir painted the three portraits in two different formats: Maurice, he depicted in a smaller-than-life full-length portrait, dressed in a sailor's outfit, in the grounds of the Grimprels' place at Chatou, where, during the same period, Renoir was working on his celebrated Le déjeuner des canotiers of 1880-81, now in the Phillips Collection, Washington DC. By contrast, the two sisters Hélène and Yvonne were shown on identically-sized canvases, each with distinctive coloured ribbons. Thus while this picture is entitled Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban rouge, Yvonne's is Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban bleu. The two pictures of the sisters appear to strike up a dialogue with one another, with Yvonne shown facing right and Hélène left, heightening the atmosphere of intimacy. This is heightened by the controlled yet free brushwork with which Renoir has so seemingly effortlessly captured his subject, not least in the range of contrasting textures that combine to create her clothing.
Those skills, the seemingly spontaneous manner in which Renoir has created this picture, led to his brief window of financial success during this period. Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban rouge perfectly demonstrates the clearly successful fusion of Impressionism and portraiture. Renoir himself was clearly aware of the importance of the Grimprel commission, as two years later he would submit Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban bleu to the Salon, to which it would be admitted.
In a sense, sending the sister-work of Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban rouge reveals Renoir's own recognition of the change in his fortunes that came just after that high-period of his portraiture. For in 1881, he had embarked on a tour of several countries including Spain and Italy, and had been struck by the Classical and Renaissance forms which he sought in some ways to emulate in his own works. This led to a dissipation of the very freshness that made his pictures up until that point so engaging and so popular. It is in part because of this that Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban rouge can be seen as such a rare work from this short, magical moment within the artist's career before his style changed. Coupled with the financial crash of 1882, this new change meant that Renoir's brief period of relative prosperity came to an end; similarly, his new group of patrons ceased to purchase his works with such enthusiasm. Even Bérard would tail off in his financial support over the coming years. Despite this, several of these patrons remained willing to support Renoir in other ways, as can be seen by the fact that they continued to lend to his exhibitions. Armand Grimprel was a lender to Renoir's first one-man show, held at Durand-Ruel's in 1883, and the family would continue to support him in this way, as can be seen from the very prestigious early exhibition history of this picture.