Auguste Renoir - Paul Berard 1880

Paul Berard 1880
Paul Berard
1880 81x65cm oil/canvas
Private collection

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From Sotheby's:
Paul-Antoine Bérard (1833-1905) was a banker, foreign affairs attaché, and Renoir's most important patron. The two men met in 1878 through a mutual acquaintance, Charles Deudon, at the fashionable Parisian salon of another of Renoir's patrons, Madame Charpentier. Despite the vast differences in their economic class and social status - Renoir, a poor workman's son and Bérard, an inheritor of a great fortune - they formed a lasting friendship that led to some of the artist's most important commissions. The first of these was a portrait that Bérard commissioned in 1879 of his eldest daughter, Marthe (now in the Museu de Arte de São Paulo). Bérard and his wife were so charmed by the resulting composition that he invited Renoir to paint at his family's lavish estate at Wargemont, near Dieppe in Normandy . Renoir was a guest at Wargemont several times in the 1880s, and enjoyed the freedom to paint as he pleased and without interruption. Much to his host's delight he decorated the doors and wall panels of the Louis XIII-inspired château with elaborate floral motifs and completed several famous portraits of the members of the Bérard family, including this handsome depiction of Monsieur Bérard at age 47 in 1880.
Seated comfortably in his armchair and smoking a cigarette, Bérard 's pose in this picture reveals the relaxed and casual relationship shared by the artist and his model. Until his death in 1905, Bérard remained a loyal friend to Renoir, advising him on his finances and introducing him to various members of the Parisian elite who would become clients. Renoir recognized that Bérard was his entré into the upper echelon of French society and even asked his patron to officiate at his induction into the Legion of Honor. Colin B. Bailey provides a succinct analysis of this relationship and discusses the Portrait of Paul Bérard, which Renoir painted two years after they first met: "It was the nonconformist and skeptical Bérard, eight years older than Renoir, with a large family and a wide social acquaintance - each of whom was a potential subject for Renoir's brush - who played Maecenas to Renoir's Virgil. Bérard and his wife, Marguerite Blanche, née Girod (1844-1901) - an 'uncompromising Protestant' whose father too was a banker -- were the sort of people who might have appealed to Degas, although they showed no interest in his art. Bérard 'looked like a gentleman of the period of Louis-Philippe, gave sumptuous dinners, frequented the foyer de la danse at the Opéra, and went to the races;' his wife had a 'visiting list that was so extensive' that 'she always complained of having to climb hundreds of stairs.' Bérard 's mondain [sic] yet casual allure is perfectly caught in Renoir's portrait of him smoking, in which he might well be one of the 'cigarettistes enduricis' espied in Madame Charpentier's salon by Théodore de Banville"
(Colin B. Bailey, op. cit., pp. 34 & 38).