DescriptionPROPERTY FROM THE LUCIEN ABRAMS COLLECTION
PIERRE-AUGUSTE RENOIR (French, 1841-1919)
Le Bouquet, 1910
Oil on canvas
17 x 12-1/2 inches (43.2 x 31.8 cm)
Signed lower left: Renoir
Two paste-down labels on stretcher bars bearing stock numbers: no. 4367 and no. 10401
Durand-Ruel, Inc., New York;
Lucien Abrams, Old Lyme, Connecticut, purchased from the above, September 20, 1933, with stock number 4367 indicated on preserved copy of photostatic invoice;
By continuous descent in the family to the current owner.
Gallery Gardens, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, Texas, 1963, ill. in black and white, cat. no. 43 (erroneously listed as "Collection of the Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, The Lucien Abrams Collection").
The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum (known as The McNay Art Museum, since 1963), San Antonio, Texas, on extended loan from 1961 until December 2000 (label verso);*
"Gallery Gardens," Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, Texas, in cooperation with the Dallas Garden Club of the Dallas Woman's Club, February 23 - March 24, 1963, no. 43;
The Old Jail Museum, Albany, Texas, on extended loan from December 2000 until November 2010.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted this exuberant bouquet of pink and yellow roses in 1910, just three years after he and his family relocated permanently to Cagnes-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean. The move from rainy Paris to warm and sunny Cagnes in 1907 opened the late great chapter of Renoir's career as one of the foremost French Impressionists. For the remaining 12 years of his life, the painter saw the market for his work in all genres-landscapes, still lifes, portraits, and figure compositions, most notably his female nudes and bathers-begin its ascent to the top rung of desirability of any French Impressionist. By the 1930s, when this bouquet was acquired by the grandfather of the present owner, Renoir's market was exploding in the United States, as his savvy dealer and champion, Durand-Ruel, was selling to important collectors, American millionaires, and major American museums for record sums.
The kinder climate and beautiful surroundings in Cagnes, where Renoir painted Le Bouquet, alleviated the discomfort of the painter's chronic health problems (nerve damage in his right eye, respiratory illnesses, and the severe rheumatoid arthritis crippling his hands), and inspired him artistically. Then in his sixties, and flourishing financially at last, thanks in part to his resourceful dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, Renoir was able to afford a nine-acre estate known as "Les Collettes." 1 With its picturesque views of the Cote d'Azur and its old stone farmhouse surrounded by olive groves, vineyards, orchards, and flowering gardens, Les Collettes was a true painter's paradise. Over the next decade, Renoir and his wife Aline reshaped many of the gardens, for example, adding roses, bougainvillea, and dahlias to existing fields of daisies and lavender, and further beautified the landscape that inspired his last great canvases. Too, Renoir was re-experiencing the joys of fatherhood; Aline gave birth to their third son, Coco, in 1901, and raised him in this idyllic environment.
At Les Collettes Renoir devoted special attention to roses, which had always been his favorite flower.2 As a young apprentice, he had painted roses on Sevres and Limoges porcelain, later on decorative fans, and roses feature prominently in his still lifes and figurative works from the 1880s and '90s -- as corsages, hair ornaments, and bouquets. At Les Collettes, Renoir and Aline designed a formal garden of alternating orange trees and rose bushes, both old-fashioned varieties and the newer Hybrid Teas, and Aline kept fresh-cut roses throughout the house as a ready source for her husband's still-life compositions. Whether neatly arranged in gardens, snaking up the farmhouse, or spilling over retaining walls, roses became so linked with Les Collettes that a local rose grower, Henri Estable, in 1909 named a new breed "Painter Renoir" in honor of his friend.3
In Le Bouquet, and similar still lifes from the period, Renoir's fully opened clump of "Painter Renoirs" in a bulbous blue iridescent vase shares the same voluptuousness of form and quivering brushwork as his monumental bathers and mythological nudes from this same period. As the late art connoisseur and museum director Ted Pillsbury further described The Bouquet, "The short brushstrokes vibrate with energy, and the colors create a rich pattern of horticultural exuberance."5 Indeed, Renoir's way of painting flowers and nudes was very similar because flowers and flesh were conceptually linked in his mind. Renoir told art dealer Ambroise Vollard that his fascination with flowers, particularly roses, lay in their specific association with the body: "[Flower paintings] are experiments with flesh tints that I make for my nudes."4 Renoir also confessed: "I find mental relaxation in painting flowers. I am not as tense as I am in front of the model. When I paint flowers, I try different tones and daring values. I would not venture to do it with a figure, for fear of spoiling everything." In the exquisite palette he used to render the roses in Le Bouquet, Renoir explored a wide range of skin tones, from creamy whites to soft pinks to near reds, but also infused the blossoms with daring chromatic notes of steel blue, grassy green and shots of electric orange and chocolate brown.
Renoir Collector Lucien Abrams
Renoir's skills as a colorist can be fully appreciated in Le Bouquet because the 101 year-old painting is in a superb state of preservation. It has been in the continuous ownership of a single family from the time it was purchased on September 20, 1933 from the New York branch of Durand-Ruel Galleries by Lucien Abrams of Old Lyme, Connecticut, to the present day. Abrams (1870-1941) was an American collector and painter in his own right. At the same time that Renoir was painting Le Bouquet at Les Collettes, in fact, the Kansas-born, Dallas-raised Abrams was himself studying Impressionist technique in France. Art historian Michael Grauer has noted of Abrams' career: "Following his graduation from Princeton University in 1892, Abrams was intent on becoming a painter. He first studied at the Art Students League in New York and then at the Academie Julian in Paris, with a short stint at J.M.W. Whistler's school in Paris. Abrams returned to the United States in 1900 living in Fort Worth, Texas, for six months, and painted in New York and Rockport, Massachusetts. During his extensive travels throughout Europe until about 1914, he painted in Belgium, Provence, Brittany, Southern France, Italy, Spain, and Algeria. In museums he studied the Old Masters and developed a keen sense of connoisseurship."
"From 1902 to 1914," Grauer continues, "Abrams exhibited annually in Paris at the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Indépendants. In 1914, he and his wife, Charlotte Gina Onillon, a Parisienne, built a home in Old Lyme, and divided their time between there, his family's home in Dallas, and a winter home in San Antonio. Abrams also exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago annual in 1899; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts annual in 1903 and 1911; the National Academy of Design annual in 1908; the Lyme Art Association from 1915 until the 1930s; and in numerous Texas venues. Abrams had one-man exhibitions at Pabst Galleries in San Antonio (1930) and at Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (1934).6
As an artist himself, Abrams had enormous appreciation for the achievement of Renoir, but allowed himself to be guided by Durand-Ruel, from whom he acquired a notable collection of Impressionist paintings, most by Renoir, which the gallery had acquired directly from the artist. Letters from Durand-Ruel encouraged Abrams to come view the latest shipments of Renoirs from Paris. Between 1929 and 1938, Abrams purchased a total of fourteen Renoir paintings from Durand-Ruel, many of these dating to Renoir's years in Cagnes, including: the present Bouquet, 1910; Baigneuse assise, 1905; Bust de femme, brune, 1910; Citron et tasse, Cagnes, 1912 (sale and partial gift to the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, in 2010, brokered by Ted Pillsbury of Heritage Auctions); The Farm at Les Collettes, Cagnes, 1914 (bequeathed by Charlotte Gina Abrams to the Metropolitan Museum in 1961 in memory of her husband, Lucien); Femme nue, couchee, 1914; Buste de jeune fille, 1917; and Femme au chapeau de paille, 1917.7 Given his own painting aesthetic, it is not surprising that Abrams passionately sought Renoirs, even with an impressive Matisse and a Picabia in his collection. Like Renoir, Abrams favored a vibrant palette, short brushstrokes, and dappled light effects, and he adored the flower-filled landscape as a subject, exemplified by his 1913 Poppies and Nasturtiums, Normandie. Abrams' granddaughter recalls having been told by her grandmother that her grandfather loved painting gardens, his own as well as those of his artist friends, as well as public parks in Dallas and untamed landscapes.8 Surviving photographs of the interior of the Old Lyme house show Lucien Abrams' landscapes hanging alongside his Renoirs and works by his artist friends. Abrams created his own colorful Impressionist gallery, a veritable indoor Les Collettes.9
Indeed, Lucien Abrams' fondness for Renoir matched that of other discerning American collectors of his work during the 1930s, notably Dr. Albert C. Barnes of Marion, Pennsylvania. Perhaps more than any other Renoir enthusiast of the time, Barnes was, in particular, a champion of Renoir's late manner to which Le Bouquet belongs. Owing in part to the arthritis which crippled his hands but could not cripple his desire to paint, Renoir, out of physical necessity, was required to adopt a new way of working. He could no longer paint with a tight exacting network of strokes, because his hands would not cooperate, so he began working more broadly, actually stabbing at the canvas with his whole arm. What this approach created in later works like Le Bouquet, and in the monumental canvases Dr. Barnes acquired for his museum-the Barnes Collection-is a fascinating new sense of movement. As Albert André described Renoir's late approach: "Renoir attacks the canvas...some general outlines...then, immediately, with pure colors diluted with turpentine...he strokes the canvas rapidly and soon you see something vague appear with iridescent colors...At the second sitting...he brightens the parts that are to be luminous...Little by little he defines the forms...still permitting them to melt into each other, and one sees emerge round shapes, sparkling with the brilliance of jewels and wrapped in transparent golden shades."
In writing about a very late Renoir bouquet he himself had acquired, Chrysanthemums in a Vase, which is possibly Renoir's last painting, Barnes described the qualities he believed made Renoir's late work the ultimate expression of the painter's artistic genius: "The colors, by their relations to each other as well as by their individual sensuous quality, convey, independently, of the fullness of feeling in the flowers themselves, the abstract qualities of glow, iridescence, lusciousness, and voluptuous charm. A flow of glowing color seems to well up from the vase, to spread out in all directions and permeate all parts of the design, like a thick foaming liquid condensing into volumes of color as it rises."10 While Barnes' language is ponderous, and quite the opposite Renoir's freedom of approach, it is nonetheless a remarkable tract celebrating Renoir's uncomplicated virtuosity as well as the sheer sensual pleasure he took in everything he painted.
*Le Bouquet was one of nine paintings stolen in 1977 from the McNay Art Museum, which were discovered less than five miles from the museum and recovered unharmed by the police within a month of the theft. The theft was reported to the Art Loss Register.
1. B. White, Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 217. By 1900 his paintings were selling for upwards of 22,000 francs, topping the highest prices for a Cezanne or a Monet.
2. D. Fell, Renoir's Garden, New York, 1991, p. 55.
3. Ibid., p. 53-55.
4. E. Pillsbury, unpublished letter to the current owner, March 17, 2010.
5. F. Daulte, Renoir, Garden City, New York, 1973, p. 58.
6. M. Grauer, unpublished document for Heritage Auctions. Michael R. Grauer serves as Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs/Curator of Art, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas.
7. Elfers appraisal of the Lucien Abrams Renoir collection, 1960, Abrams family archives.
8. M. Berardi, interview with the current owner, October 4, 2011.
9. M. Dockery, interview with the current owner, September 26, 2011.
10. Dr. A.C. Barnes and V. de Mazia, The Art of Renoir, Marion, PA, 1935, p. 437.
This lot is accompanied by a letter of authenticity from Bernheim-Jeune & Cie. and will be included in Volume V of the Catalogue Raisonné des Tableaux, Pastels, Dessins et Aquarelles de Pierre-Auguste Renoir, in preparation by Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville, Editions Bernheim-Jeune.
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