Fine Art

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

French, 1841-1919

Nature morte aux oranges

c.1900
Oil on canvas
8 1/4 x 13 1/4 inches (21 x 34 cm)
Framed: 19 x 24 inches (48.3 x 61 cm)
Signed lower left: Renoir

Provenance:

Galerie Charpentier, Paris*
Private collection, France, 1958 (purchased from the above)
Thence by descent

Literature:

Vollard, Ambrose, Tableaux, Pastels, et Dessins de Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Paris, 1918), vol. 2, pg. 158, no. 1584; (reprint, San Francisco, Alan Wofsy Fine Art, 1989, p. 326, no. 1584, illustrated)

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue critique being compiled by the Wildenstein Institute, Paris (certificate).

Pierre Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges, France, on February 25, 1841, the sixth of Léonard Renoir and Marguerite Merlet's seven children. His father was a tailor, and his mother was a dressmaker. His family moved to Paris in 1844, where he painted plates in a porcelain factory and worked for his older brother, decorating fans. Throughout these early years Renoir made frequent visits to the Louvre, where he studied the art of earlier French masters, particularly those of the eighteenth century—Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, and Jean Honoré Fragonard.

In 1862, Renoir decided to study painting seriously and entered the studio of the painter
Charles Gleyre, where he met other artists such as Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Jean Frédéric Bazille. He had a difficult time getting established as an artist and was often poor to buy supplies, and the works he submitted to the Salons of 1866 and 1867 were rejected. His next submission, Lise was accepted the following year.

In 1874, Renoir participated in the first Impressionist exhibition. Although the Impressionist exhibitions were the target of much public scorn during the 1870s, Renoir's popularity gradually increased during this time. He became a friend of Caillebotte, one of the first supporters of the Impressionists, and he was also backed by several art dealers and collectors.

Although often simply classified as an Impressionist, Renoir spent most of his life exploring multiple styles, many of which were concerned with academic and classical painting. During the 1880s Renoir began to separate himself from the Impressionists, and looked to the past for a fresh inspiration. In 1881, he traveled to Italy and was particularly impressed by the art of Raphael. While keen to modernize painting, he was more open to embracing tradition than the other Impressionist artists, and more aware of the potential limitations in the movement.

Still-life painting was a constant for the artist, as it was both marketable and ideal for facilitating experimentation due to its manageable size and unending compositional possibilities. On still-life painting, Renoir stated: “I just let my brain rest…. I don’t experience the same tension as I do when confronted by the model. I establish the tones; I study the values carefully without worrying about losing the picture. I don’t dare do this with a figure piece for fear of ruining it.”

Renoir's health declined severely in his later years. In 1903, he suffered his first attack of arthritis and settled for the winter at Cagnes-sur-Mer, France. The arthritis made painting painful and often impossible. Still, he continued to work, at times with a brush tied to his crippled hand. Renoir died at Cagnes-sur-Mer on December 3, 1919, but not before an experience of supreme triumph: the state had purchased his portrait Madame Georges Charpentier (1877), and he traveled to Paris in August to see it hanging in the Louvre.

Nature morte aux oranges features a simple still life grouping of four succulent oranges resting on a table top. Though the composition and subject seem simple at first glance, each of the elements works in concert to celebrate the beauty of the fruit. The bright, verdant green of the leaves give the impression they were freshly picked. What little background is visible is painted in a combination of rich browns in shades of chestnut, ochre, and cinnamon, which complement and enhance the fruit’s warmer tones. The perspective is nearly at eye level with the viewer, and the table, draped in a simple cream cloth, serves merely as a blank canvas to highlight the bright, warm tones of the oranges.

*Original receipt from Galerie Charpentier to the original owners, from whom the picture descended through the family (dated 25 July 1958).