Ephrussi’s Invaluable Support

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party, on view October 7, 2017-January 7, 2018.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Albert Cahen d’Anvers, 1881

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Albert Cahen d’Anvers, 1881, Oil on canvas; 31 1/2 × 25 1⁄8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Of all the people depicted in Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, perhaps the most vital to the artist’s emerging reputation at the time was Charles Ephrussi. As a critic, collector, and advocate, Ephrussi offered Renoir valuable support and introduced him to a number of prominent members of society who commissioned him to paint their portraits. Together with the elegant Marguerite Charpentier, Ephrussi influenced the placement of Renoir’s portrait of her with her children (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) in the Salon of 1879, helping to shift Renoir’s career toward critical and commercial success. In advance of the show, Ephrussi had expressed interest in seeing the recent portrait, and Renoir gladly took him to the Charpentiers’ house for a viewing. Ephrussi, who had purchased work by Renoir for his collection, emerged as a vocal advocate for Impressionism in 1880 when he praised Caillebotte’s paintings in the fifth Impressionism exhibition, and, in a review of the sixth, deplored the absence of Manet, Monet, Sisley, and Renoir. Ephrussi used his influence to get Renoir an advantageous hanging at the Salon—that Marguerite Charpentier was a prominent member of Parisian society did not hurt the placement of her portrait either, nor its critical reception.

Charles Ephrussi introduced Renoir to the Cahen d’Anvers, a prominent Jewish family who proceeded to commission portraits from him. In addition to this image of Albert Cahen d’Anvers, Renoir painted Albert’s three nieces, the daughters of his brother Louis, and his wife, Louise. Ephrussi handled for Renoir the submission of these portraits to the Salon of 1881.

The Dreamer

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party, on view October 7, 2017-January 7, 2018.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Dreamer, 1879

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Dreamer (La Rêveuse), 1879. Oil on canvas 20 1⁄8 × 24 3⁄8 in. Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum purchase

The model for this painting is thought to be Alphonsine Fournaise, whom Renoir often saw at the Maison Fournaise in Chatou in the late 1870s. She posed for him regularly during the years leading up to Luncheon of the Boating Party. Although there is no direct evidence that Alphonsine modeled for the young woman leaning on the railing of the balcony in the grand composition, she may have occasionally joined the clientele at the Fournaise in such a way.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, On the Shore of the Seine, c. 1879

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, On the Shore of the Seine (Paysage bords de Seine), c. 1879. Oil on linen; 5 1/2 × 9 1⁄8 in. The Baltimore Museum of Art, Saidie A. May Bequest, Courtesy of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company

Installed just to the left of this lovely portrait is a smaller, almost sketch-like painting. This quickly executed oil study was probably a gift from Renoir to Alphonsine Fournaise to thank her for modeling for him. In 1864 she married Louis Joseph Papillon, and we know that a Madame Papillon once owned this piece.

Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion Experience

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s son, Jean, became one of the most important French directors of the 20th century. His now classic film La Grande Illusion follows two French soldiers during the First World War, Captain de Boeldieu and Lieutenant Maréchal, who are captured and imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp and attempt to escape. The making of La Grande Illusion was “marked by some fortunate circumstances,” explains Nick Macdonald, in his book In Search of La Grande Illusion: A Critical Appreciation of Jean Renoir’s Elusive Masterpiece. One early circumstance that led to the creation of the film stemmed from Renoir’s own experience in the war:

Mid–World War I: (left to right) Georges Rivière, Paul Cézanne, Jr., Jean Renoir; Jean-Pierre and Aline Cézanne in front (ca. 1916) (UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library, Department of Special Collections, Jean Renoir Collection).

Mid–World War I: (left to right) Georges Rivière, Paul Cézanne, Jr., Jean Renoir; Jean-Pierre and Aline Cézanne in front (ca. 1916) (UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library, Department of Special Collections, Jean Renoir Collection).

“The series of lucky breaks and chance encounters that helped lead to the movie as we know it began twenty years earlier, during World War I. Renoir had enlisted and, in 1916, was assigned to air reconnaissance, like Maréchal. During one mission, his Caudron, an old-style airplane, was attacked by a German Fokker. A French fighter plane shot down the attacking Fokker and saved him; his rescuer turned out to be Captain Armand Pinsard, an acclaimed ace in the French air force.

A champagne dinner at their canteen celebrated the occasion and they became friends. During their time together, Pinsard talked about horses he had trained. They were separated when Renoir’s squadron transferred to another area.

Years later, in 1934, while Renoir was filming Toni in the south of France, planes from a nearby airfield flew overhead, disrupting his sound recording. He went to the base and found that the commanding officer was Pinsard. The planes were rerouted and the two veterans renewed their friendship, dining together often, with Pinsard recounting his wartime adventures, many of which had already been publicized in a 1917 magazine article.

Pinsard had been shot down a number of times and once succeeded in tunneling through a thick prison wall to escape captivity. Renoir made an outline that covered his exploits, “Les Évasions du Colonel Pinsard” (“The Escapes of Colonel Pinsard”), and thought it might be the basis for a good film some day.”

Watch La Grande Illusion at the Phillips on December 14.