Jeunes filles aux lilas
Oil on canvas: 21.6(h) x 18(w) in /
54.9(h) x 45.7(w) cm
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Limoges 1841 – 1919 Cagnes
Jeunes filles aux lilas
Signed lower right: Renoir
Oil on canvas: 21 5/8 x 18 in / 55 x 46 cm
Painted circa 1890
Arthur Fontaine, Paris (1860-1931);
his sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 13th April, 1932, lot 67 (FFr.98,000 to Bernheim-Jeune);
Gallery Bernheim-Jeune, Paris
Paul Guillaume, Paris;
Valentine Gallery, New York, acquired from the above;
Private collection, New York, acquired from the above in 1937;
thence by descent and partially given to the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1999
Richard Green, London, 2004
Private collection, USA
Paris, Galerie E Druet, Renoir, 5th-16th February 1923, no.74
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Pavillon de Marsan, Le décor de la vie sous la IIIe République, April-July 1933, no.289
London, Richard Green, Aspects of Impressionism, 2004, no.14, illus. in colour and with colour details; colour detail on the cover
François Daulte, Auguste Renoir, catalogue raisonnée de l’oeuvre peint, vol. I, Lausanne 1971, no.582, illus.
Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville, Renoir Catalogue Raisonné des Tableaux, Pastels, Dessins et Aquarelles, vol. 2, 1882-1894, Paris 2009, p.181, no.976, illus.
To be included in the forthcoming Renoir catalogue critique being prepared by the Wildenstein Plattner Institute and established from the archive funds of François Daulte, Durand-Ruel, Venturi, Vollard and Wildenstein
Pierre-August Renoir, one of the best loved of the Impressionists, painted the beauties of nature, harmonious landscapes, flowers, fruit, children and women. He commented to his friend and biographer, the artist Albert André: ‘Painting is done to decorate walls. So it should be as rich as possible. For me a picture – for we are forced to paint easel pictures – should be something likeable, joyous and pretty – yes, pretty. There are enough ugly things in life for us not to add to them’.
This sumptuous work, Jeunes filles aux lilas, belongs to a series of paintings completed in the early 1890s of two young girls, one dark, one fair, often wearing elaborately decorated hats. They appear in In the meadow, c.1890 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), sitting on shimmering green grass gathering flowers, the epitome of youth and beauty. In Jeunes filles aux lilas Renoir constructs an intense composition of serpentine lines weaving around the bunch of flowers, which seem to give off a heady scent. The tones of the blonde’s girl’s hair, touched with a myriad of pastel-coloured highlights, are echoed in the deeper gold of her dark-haired companion’s hat. Renoir’s brushwork moves in and out of focus, short and carefully modelled for the blonde girl’s face, exuberant for the loosely-described lilacs. Light binds together every surface and the comparatively shallow picture space emphasizes the affectionate closeness of the two girls.
By the 1890s Renoir had a flourishing portrait practice among the Parisian elite and was always alive to the artistic possibilities of contemporary female dress. In his informal, model-posed paintings, he had a fondness for the large, flower-wreathed ‘picture hats’ of the era. Suzanne Valadon, who modelled for some of these works, claimed that Renoir had these floral hats specially made for his subjects and they were commonly seen lying about his studio. Albert André described visiting one of Renoir’s ateliers: ‘His studios, whether in Paris or in the country, are empty of any furniture that might encourage visitors to stay for long. A broken down divan, covered in clothes and old flowered hats for his models; a few chairs that are always cluttered with canvases’.
The models for the present painting are probably Julie Manet (1878-1966), the daughter of Berthe Morisot and the niece of Edouard Manet, and Paulette (Paule) Gobillard, her first cousin. Renoir visited Morisot at Mézy-sur-Seine in the summers of 1890 and 1891. Julie inherited her painter mother’s striking, dark-haired beauty, immortalized by her brother-in-law Edouard in such works as Berthe Morisot with a bouquet of violets, 1872 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris). Julie also became a painter, as did Paulette. In her diaries, published as Growing up with the Impressionists, Julie recalled visiting Renoir’s studio: ‘He thought my hat was very pretty, which pleased me as I never buy a hat without wondering whether M. Renoir will like it’.
Renoir’s son, the famous film director Jean, wrote about his father’s relationship with the two girls: ‘Before she died, Berthe Morisot had asked my father to look after her daughter Julie, then aged seventeen, and her nieces, Jeanie and Paule Gobillard. Being a trifle older than the other two girls, Paule took charge of “the Manet house”, as my parents called the mansion at Number 41 rue de Villejust. Jeanie was to marry the poet Paul Valéry, after whom the street was later to be renamed. Paule became so wrapped up in playing the part of the big sister that she never married. Julie, a painter herself, was to marry the artist Rouart. In Berthe Morisot’s day the Manet circle had been one of the most authentic centres of civilised Parisian life. Although my father, as he grew older, avoided artistic and literary sets like the plague, he loved spending an hour or two at the house in rue de Villejust. It was not intellectuals that one met at Berthe Morisot’s, but simply good company’.
In Jeunes filles aux lilas, one sees not just a celebration of spring flowers and the freshness of youth, but the affection and kindness that bound together the Impressionist circle.
Photograph of Julie Manet aged fifteen, 1894.
Note on the provenance
The first owner of this painting was the industrialist Arthur Fontaine, Paris (1860-1931), Chief Engineer of Mines for France, patron of the Nabis and founder with Maurice Denis of the art periodical L’Occident. Edouard Vuillard painted Arthur Fontaine reading in his salon in 1904 (private collection). Fontaine’s collection included works by Redon, Chagall, van Dongen and Vallotton, among others.
Limoges 1841 – 1919 Cagnes
Pierre-August Renoir, one of the best loved of the Impressionists, always painted the beauties of nature: harmonious landscapes, flowers, fruit, children and women. He began his career at the age of thirteen as a painter on porcelain in a factory in Paris. He soon gave this up in favour of painting fans and decorating blinds, which he did until 1862, when he had saved enough money to support his ambition to study art. He enrolled in classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and in 1864 had his first painting accepted at the Paris Salon.
During this period Renoir also studied in the atelier of Charles Gleyre, where he became friends with Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Frédéric Bazille. In 1863 Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’Herbe caused uproar at the Salon des Refusés and made a deep impression on the group of young painters. They began to go on expeditions to the Forest of Fontainebleau to paint en plein air and started to develop a palette and style of painting that formed the foundation of Impressionism. In 1869 Renoir worked alongside Claude Monet at La Grenouillière on the Seine, producing what are considered to be the first landscapes painted in the Impressionist style.
Although Renoir continued to submit his works to the Salon throughout the early 1870s, he also continued to explore his new approach to light and colour and to forge strong links with other like-minded artists such as Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and Edgar Degas. By 1874 the group was so disaffected by the constraints placed upon them by the Salon jury that they decided to mount their own exhibition which challenged the accepted tradition of official art exhibitions. In April 1874 the group held the first of the Impressionist exhibitions.
This group of artists exhibited eight times between 1874 and 1886 and Renoir participated on four occasions. In 1878 his painting Madame Charpentier and her children (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) was accepted at the Salon. The painting was critically well received and Renoir finally began to sell his paintings; for the first time he experienced a degree of financial security. As Renoir’s popularity grew he travelled more and gradually began to adopt a different approach to his art. The Impressionists were suffering from internal disputes which led Renoir to disassociate himself from them; consequently he did not take part in the eighth and final show in 1886.
Throughout the rest of his life Renoir’s work continued to develop. He visited the South of France, Italy and North Africa, where he painted dramatic, highly-coloured landscapes. He eventually married his mistress Ailine Carigot and as his family grew he experienced a new contentment. In 1907, suffering from ill health, he purchased a property in Cagnes near Cannes on the Côte d’Azur where he settled with his family and painted until his death in 1919.
 Quoted by John House in London, Hayward Gallery/Paris, Grand Palais/Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Renoir, 1985-6, p.14.
 Albert André, Renoir, 1919, reprinted in Renoir, A Retrospective, New York 1987, p.262.
 Growing up with the Impressionists: the Diary of Julie Manet, translated by Rosalind de Boland Roberts, London 1987, p.124, diary entry for Saturday 8th January 1898.
 Jean Renoir, Renoir, My Father, 1958, translated by Randolph and Dorothy Weaver, 1962; repr. New York 2001, p.278.