Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (France, 1841–1919)
Young Woman in the Country: Portrait of Madame Henriot, the Actress (Jeune Femme dans les champs), 1877
Oil on canvas
28 5/8 x 16 7/8 in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted Young Woman in the Country: Portrait of Madame Henriot, the Actress (Jeune Femme dans les champs) outdoors or en plein air, taking care to record the variations in light and shadow that dapple both his model and the surrounding landscape. The painting lacks the brilliant palette common to his paintings of this period and a fair amount of raw canvas is exposed, suggesting that it may have been an experiment or sketch, yet Renoir signed the canvas, indicating it is a finished work. In subsequent decades, numerous artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Signac used paint economically, and left exposed canvas in order to draw the eye to the paint and the salient details of the subject.
Renoir’s model, actress Madame Henriot or Marie-Henriette-Alphonsine Grossin (1857-1944), posed for him repeatedly during the 1870s. After her study at Le Conservatoire national de musique et de declamation, she began her stage career while still a teenager and struggled during the 1870s to find some success. Eventually, she became a regular performer at the Théâtre de l’Odéon and the avant-garde Théâtre Libre. In Young Woman in the Country, Madame Henriot is at the beginning of her career at age 19, yet Renoir still idealized her features to create a youthful, coquettish appearance. She poses in a lush, fertile country landscape, almost as a personification of spring, and entices the viewer by placing a finger flirtatiously against her lip. Renoir associates sexuality with the exuberance of nature as if to recall earlier allegories by Peter Paul Rubens, Jean-Antoine Watteau, and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, but with a technique decidedly modern.