Jeune fille aux roses (Buste de femme) (Femme aux roses)

Girl with Roses (Bust of a Woman) (Woman with Roses)

1897

Accession year 2014

Oil on canvas, 47 x 36.5 cm
Signed on the front, top right: “Renoir”

Collection Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti per l’Arte

Long-term loan Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin

Inv. no. CC.18.P.REN.1897.A436

Provenance: Ambroise Vollard, Paris (from 29 July 1897); Julius Elias, Berlin (from 7 May 1926); Julie and Ludwig Elias (before 6 June 1936); Ambroise Vollard, Paris (6 June 1936); Étienne Bignou, Paris; private collection; Sotheby’s, London, Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale: Including Impressionist Paintings from the Collection of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., 23 June 2014 (lot 36, pp. 194-197).

Exhibitions: Zurich 1917 (no. 185, p. 24); London 1936 (no. 37); Paris 1982 (no. 7, ill.).

Bibliography: Vollard 1918, vol. I, p. 115, no. 459, ill.; G.-P. Dauberville, M. Dauberville 2010, p. 360, no. 2320, ill.; The Cerruti Collection 2019, p. 16, ill.

The soft motherof-pearl complexions, brought to life by silvery reflections, are accompanied by the undulating and silky brushstrokes used to render the backgrounds and clothing.

The young woman seems to bear a similarity to Fernande-Gabrielle Renard, known as Gabrielle and the cousin of Aline Charigot, Renoir’s wife. Born in 1878, Gabrielle was the artist’s favourite and most frequently painted model at the end of the century.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir is counted among the greatest portrait artists of the late 19th and early 20th century, and is particularly admired for his captivating portraits of women.1 In the 1890s, after Impressionism and his so-called aigre or linear period, he adopted a soft and mellow style, characteristic of his mature years, in which the contours lost their dryness and his technique acquired fullness and fluidity. The soft motherof-pearl complexions, brought to life by silvery reflections, are accompanied by the undulating and silky brushstrokes used to render the backgrounds and clothing. The relaxed faces and imposing figures of his models reveal the attributes of a beauty midway between realism and stereotyping. His careful study of the great masters, conducted in the rooms of the Louvre since his youth, went hand in hand with his interest in 18th-century French art. The paintings of Jean-Honoré Fragonard played a particularly important role in showing the artist that three-dimensional forms could be conveyed through flowing brushstrokes of colour. As recorded by his pupil and biographer Jeanne Baudot, by the late 1890s the painter combined his interest in 18th-century art with his passion for Titian and Peter Paul Rubens, the artists who contributed more than any other to the creation of an opulent and dynamic ideal of female sensuality.2

These characteristics and influences can be observed in the painting in the Cerruti Collection, in which a young woman with a calm and dreamy air about her features in a three-quarter portrait with her gaze slightly lowered. The formal arrangement of the portrait is emphasised by the chromatic hues of her complexion and the attention paid to rendering her facial features: her delicate and well-drawn mouth, her elegantly elongated eyes, her hair worn up with a central parting. In contrast, the green-brown background, the iridescent dress and her tapered hand holding the bouquet of roses are all painted with long, flowing brushstrokes.

The Jeune fille aux roses, whose identity is currently unknown, reveals a Renoir who is more interested in producing a paradigm of youthful beauty than capturing the details of the figure. Despite this, the young woman seems to bear a similarity to Fernande-Gabrielle Renard, known as Gabrielle and the cousin of Aline Charigot, Renoir’s wife.3 Born in 1878, Gabrielle was the artist’s favourite and most frequently painted model at the end of the century. She features in around 200 canvases, including the famous Femme nue couchée (Reclining Nude, 1906) at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. Having joined the Renoir family as a nanny immediately after the birth of Jean, the artist’s second child, Gabrielle soon became an example of beauty capable of combining family intimacy and sensuality in Renoir’s eyes.

Jeune fille aux roses (Girl with Roses) not only potentially testifies to the link established during this period between the artist and his future muse, but also indicates the link that Renoir established with the famous dealer Ambroise Vollard, whose eponymous gallery was an undisputed promotor of avant-garde art at the turn of the century. The relationship between the pair soon transformed into a sincere friendship lasting from 1895 to the artist’s death. Documents from the Vollard Archives, now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris,4 record the painting’s arrival at the gallery in the same year it was painted, on 29 July 1897, under the title Buste de femme.5 More than twenty years later, on 10 September 1917, the work, owned by Vollard at the time, was loaned to the Französische Kunst des XIX u. XX Jaherhunderts exhibition (5 October – 14 November), the biggest contemporary French art exhibition ever held in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.6 The catalogue, with preface by the painter Maurice Denis and an impressive list of 362 works, includes it at no. 185 as Femme aux roses. Featuring with sixty pieces, comprising both paintings and sculptures, Renoir was the most represented artist.7

The Vollard Archives also record the sale of the painting to Julius Elias, a German collector of Jewish origin, on 7 May 1926. The work was sent to Berlin together with another Renoir entitled Dans la campagne (In the Countryside), a Femme se peignant (Woman Combing Her Hair) by Edgar Degas and the famous Joueurs de cartes (Card Players, 1892-95) by Paul Cézanne, now at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.8 As well as a collector, Elias was also a writer, translator, literary and art historian, and an advocate of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in Germany. After World War I he took over the art department at the Ullstein publishing house, but he died an early death, just a few months after purchasing Jeune fille aux roses, on 2 July 1927.9 Due to the restrictions that the Nazis imposed on Jewish residents, his wife Julie and son Ludwig left Germany in 1938 and settled in Norway. In order to facilitate their move and overcome economic difficulties, many works from Elias’s collection were sold thanks to the mediation of lawyers and dealers. Following the German occupation of Norway in 1940, Julie, who was very ill, managed to avoid being sent to a concentration camp and died in 1943, unaware of the dramatic fate of her son who had been deported to Auschwitz the previous year.

The painting now in the Cerruti Collection was sold by the Elias family before their move to Norway. Indeed, the Vollard Archives record its transfer once again on 6 June 1936, when it was granted on loan to the Corot to Cézanne exhibition at the Alex. Reid & Lefevre gallery in London.10 After it had left the Vollard gallery, Jeune fille aux roses came into the possession of the French dealer Étienne Bignou, before ending up in a private collection. Francesco Federico Cerruti bought it for £871,000 – the last of his purchases – at the Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale held in London on 23 June 2014. In February of that same year, the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Turin had concluded the Renoir. Dalle collezioni del Musée d’Orsay e dell’Orangerie exhibition, in which the portrait of Gabrielle as Femme nue couchée (1906) featured among the other sixty works.11 Cerruti, who was confined to a wheelchair like the elderly Renoir, did not have the opportunity to visit the exhibition, but he looked through the catalogue with interest and this fuelled his desire to purchase a painting by the great French master.

[Fabio Cafagna]


1 See Ottawa-Chicago-Fort Worth 1997-98.

2 Baudot 1949, pp. 28-30; see also J. House, “Il classicismo di Renoir”, in Rome 2008, pp. 27-35.

3 In The Cerruti Collection 2019, p. 16, the woman is mistakenly identified as the actress Gabrielle Colonna-Romano, who also modelled for Renoir on more than one occasion. Despite her physical resemblance to the portrait in question, Colonna-Romano, born in 1888, was only nine years old when this painting was produced.

4 I would like to thank Isabelle Gaëtan and Marie-Josèphe Lesieur, Documentation de la Conservation, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, for the invaluable information they provided me with. For their research regarding the history of this painting, I would also like to thank Cyndie Campbell and Philip Dombowsky, Archives, Documentation and Visual Resources Library and Archives, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and Susan Chore, The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library Archives, New York.

5 MS421(4,3) fol. 79, Registre de caisse consignant les entrées et sorties du 20 juin 1894 à juin 1900, Documentation de la Conservation, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

6 MS421(3,6) fol. 119, Prêts aux expositions.

7 Zurich 1917, pp. 23-25.

8 MS421(4,8) fol. 56, Journal de caisse consignant recettes et paiements au jour le jour de janvier 1922 à octobre 1929.

9 Regarding the biography of Elias, see, for example: https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.6999.html

10 MS421(3,5) fol. 21, Transport d’oeuvres (documents classés alphabétiquement par lieux de destination).

11 Turin 2013-14.