Auguste Renoir - Beaulieu 1890

Beaulieu 1890
1890 65х81cm oil/canvas
Private collection

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From Christie's:
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue critique of Pierre-Auguste Renoir being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute established from the archives of François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein.
We are grateful to Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville for confirming that this painting is included in their Bernheim-Jeune archives as an authentic work.
Beaulieu, femmes et garçonnet demonstrates Renoir's successful reconciliation of plein-air painting and artistic tradition in the landscapes and informal outdoor scenes that he executed during the early 1890s. The trio seen here are Madame Renoir, who is depicted in profile, a female guest, and the artist's five year-old son, Pierre, during the family's sojourn on the French Riviera in 1891. From February to April, the painter and his family rented a house with the Franco-Polish writer and critic Teodor de Wyzewa at Tamaris-sur-Mer, a seaside village near Toulon. Renoir preferred to spend the coldest months of the year working in milder climes, while maintaining an apartment and studio in Paris. The painter's annual trips to the south of France were motivated in part by his deteriorating health, but they also provided fresh material for new canvases. Renoir wrote to his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel from the Mediterranean coast, commenting on his artistic progress and the beautiful weather. "I am cramming myself with sunshine," he remarked (quoted in B.E. White, Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 191). Toward the end of his stay, Renoir reported, "This landscape painter's craft is very difficult for me, but these three months will have taken me further than a year in the studio. Afterward I'll come back and be able to take advantage at home of my experiments" (quoted in ibid.).
Renoir has blended everyday life and the classical idyll in the present painting, cultivating a timeless quality that the painter and de Wyzewa attributed to the southern landscape. "In this remarkable countryside" remarked Renoir, "it seems as if misfortune cannot befall one; one is cosseted by the atmosphere" (quoted in Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 268). As John House has noted, de Wyzewa also extolled the essential qualities of the South and contrasted it to the North, which "is for the young, for people eager for movement and struggle. But sooner or later the sun attracts them calms their nerves and opens their eyes to the splendor of eternal things. Self-consciously poetic though it is, de Wyzewa's characterization of the south parallels the qualities which emerged in Renoir's art after he made a home there" (ibid.).
In the present work, Renoir integrates the figures into their surroundings with his soft palette and feathery touches of paint, which heighten the mood of harmony and contented relaxation. This unified surface of pigment and brushwork presages the fusion of figure and background that Renoir achieved in his monumental figures and nudes of the early 1900s. Richard Shone has commented on the formal strength of Beaulieu, Femmes et garçonnet, stating:
"Renoir's reputation for demotic hedonism, his delight in obvious charms and idyllic commonplaces, have frequently prevented a full appreciation of the subtleties and discretion of his art. The present painting combines complete naturalness of subject with rigorous composition-like a scene in a novel by Colette. The canvas flickers with rhythmic echoes and correspondences of color, clothing the firmest of structures. The dark trunks of the pines are unobtrusively related to the silvery ones of the tamarisk bushes by the lake; the houses are disposed in perfect relation to the figures; the colors of the women's clothes are picked up in the varied warm tones along the trunk of the central tree" (R. Shone, A Very Private Collection: Janice H. Levin's Impressionist Pictures, New York, 2002, pp. 85-86).
This pastoral scene is also reminiscent of the fêtes galantes of French eighteenth-century painting, even if it lacks the references to love and courtship in works such as Antoine Watteau's Plaisirs d'amour, 1719 (fig. 1). Renoir's admiration for painters such as Watteau, and Jean-Honoré Fragonard was at its height in the early 1890s, and he defined his "light approach to painting" in this period as "a sequel to the paintings of the eighteenth century" (quoted in G. Adriani, Renoir, Cologne, 1999, p. 48). Renoir also looked to landscapes by Camille Corot (1796-1895) such as La Forêt de Fontainebleau, 1834 (fig. 2) as a model for his own outdoor scenes, praising the elder painter for his truthful vision and insistence on working indoors. Renoir remarked to the critic Ambroise Vollard, "I had the good fortune to meet Corot personally; I told him how hard it is for me to work outdoors. 'Yes,' he answered, 'because you never know exactly what you've done when you're outdoors. You must always reexamine things in the studio.' Yet Corot painted nature more realistically than any 'Impressionist' ever managed to do! So let us stop talking about the 'discoveries' of the Impressionists; the old masters were surely aware of these things as well, and if they put them to one side, then it was because all of the great artists have managed without effect. By simplifying nature, they made it all the greater" (quoted in ibid., p. 45). John House has written, "His espousal of the French eighteenth century and of Corot was central to his art and to the public image he projected. 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. In 1888 he cited Fragonard to explain his efforts to soften and variegate his technique; 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" (op. cit., p. 250).