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Blonde bather(s) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Left image:
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1882, La Baigneuse blonde, oil on canvas, 90 x 63 cm, Pinacoteca Agnelli, Turin
Right image:
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Baigneuse aux cheveux dénoués 1903, Huile sur toile : 92 x 73 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Auguste Renoir painted two similar versions of Blonde Bather (La baigneuse blonde) in 1881 and 1882, both of which are now published as private collections. The 1882 version is seen above on the left. The model was Aline Charigot, who later became Renoir’s wife. Inspired by Renaissance paintings (especially Raphael’s frescoes) in Italy in 1881, these works are clearly different in style from Renoir’s earlier works. Some commentators have called these works beautiful, while others have called them vulgar.

The right image called “Bather with Loose Blonde Hair”  is most probably the first of four very similar versions of a bather that Renoir made between 1903 and 1905. The presence of modern clothes gives the scene a clear sense of time. Only the hat is well defined, made to stand out by the contrast of the yellow with the red color of the band; the other articles are merely indicated, reduced to a few spots of indefinite color. As in other similar paintings by Renoir, the model pulls back her hair in a delicate gesture that is at once modest and extremely seductive.

Ambroise Vollard has referred to these paintings mentioning that between 1902 and 1905, Renoir painted several series of the same subject, i.e., seated nudes. In these paintings, young women with loose hair are seated next to their clothes. These are clothes of the time but they no longer refer to modernity or the fashion of the moment. These are, in the sense that Renoir understood it, only ingredients which make all the value of a painting in the eyes of the amateur. (Ambroise Vollard, Auguste Renoir, Berlin 1926, p. 39. Ambroise Vollard, La vie et l’auvre de Renoir, Paris 1919, p. 31, qtd. in: Mössinger, Ingrid, Sagner, Karin (eds.) (2012)) With very lively colors, it now pays homage to a feminine ideal, the fullness of which recalls Rubens. “Renoir painted the woman as he understood her – and as a man of course. As he found her beautiful, he painted her attractive and, as seduction seemed inexhaustible to him, he painted the inexhaustible. […] He found the desire of the young girl and the woman turned towards a bigger world, their colored enchantment.” (Julius Meier-Graefe, Renoir, (Berlin 1911] Frankfurt a. M. Francfort-sur-le-Main 1986, p. 85, qtd. in: Mössinger, Ingrid, Sagner, Karin (eds.) (2012)).

Sources

1. Blonde Bather (La baigneuse blonde)
2. Mössinger, Ingrid, Sagner, Karin (eds.) (2012) Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Wie Seide gemalt – L’Effet de la Soie, Hirmer.

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