On November 27th, 1904, Pierre-Auguste Renoir wrote to young Jeanne Valery: "would you care to come [to my studio] starting Tuesday morning, if there's not too much fog?" A gentle request from one of the best loved Impressionists of all time, Renoir's calling upon Jeanne, better known to him as Jeannie, that late November day would yield this remarkable composition.
The portrait is that of Jeanne Valery, nee Gobillard, the wife of French poet, essayist and philosopher, Paul Valéry. An orphan at the tender age of 16, Jeanne was the daughter of fellow Impressionist Berthe Morisot's sister, Yves. Morisot took Jeanne and her sister, Paule, into her family when Yves died, but Morisot's sudden death in 1895 left Gobillard guardianless once more. Renoir, who had been an extremely close friend of Morisot, became the guardian of Morisot's daughter, Julie, and feeling particularly paternal he also welcomed Gobillard and her sister to join with his family. Julie, Jeanne, and Paule became very attached to each other and to Renoir, who often entertained them with art lessons. In 1900, Jeanne married Valéry in a double ceremony with Julie and Ernst Rouart, the son of Renoir's good friend and fellow artist, Henri Rouart. This portrait was the first documented portrait Renoir completed of Jeanne, making it quite an exceptional composition.
Renoir was born in Limoges, France and began his career as an apprentice to a painter of porcelain wares. He then moved to Paris at the age of 21, enrolling at the prestigious École des Beaux Arts. It was here, while studying under Charles Gleyre, that Renoir met Claude Monet and several other classmates who would later establish the celebrated French Impressionist group.
Working closely with Monet, Renoir began experimenting with the portrayal of light and its effect on his canvases. The youngest member of the Impressionist movement, an astute Renoir embraced working en plein air, or out in the open, recognizing how a subject constantly changed through the dynamism of light. Capturing a particular moment in time, or an "impression," rather than a subjective scene, was central to the group's philosophy which became the most important artistic phenomenon of the 19th century.
Relying heavily upon composition, lines and descriptive details, Renoir distinguished himself among his contemporaries. His intuitive use of color and expansive brushstroke, along with an acute attention to his subject, has placed him among the finest painters in history.
This painting is accompanied by its certificate of authentication by the Wildenstein Institute of Paris, France, February 27, 2006, and will be included in their forthcoming catalog raisonné on Renoir.