Feature of the Week: “Nu endormi au bras levé” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Feature of the Week: "Nu endormi au bras levé" by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
“Nu endormi au bras levé”
1885
Pastel counterproof on Japan paper with some of the outlines redrawn with a fine point in black
16 7/8 x 19 3/4 inches
31 x 27 inches (framed)

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Provenance:
Ambroise Vollard, the artist’s dealer; the Estate of Henri M. Petiet, Paris.

The thirty-four works included in this exhibition represent the second part of an extraordinary horde of pastel counterproofs by Mary Cassatt and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. They were put away in portfolios nearly a century ago by an eminent dealer, Ambroise Vollard, and remained in complete obscurity, as a time capsule, until their recent rediscovery.

As with the Cassatt counterproofs, which we presented last year, it appears that Vollard provided both the means and the impetus for the creation of these works. August Clot, a resourceful printer and master lithographer (who also helped Degas to produce over 100 counterproofs), printed the editions for Vollard’s famous sets and individual lithographs by many artists of the day, including Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Renoir and Edouard Vuillard. He also refined the method for transferring a pastel image to a fresh sheet of paper by using a lithographic press to apply the necessary even pressure. He protected the surface of the pastel from undue abrasion and enhanced the luminous transparency of the counterproof by transferring the image to a smooth and soft, tissue-thin Japan paper, backed for support with a sturdier sheet.

At the end of the 19th century, when the demand for Renoir’s work was steadily growing, Vollard commissioned Renoir to create lithographs, and employed Clot to transfer the artist’s finished drawings to lithographic stones.

The dating of Renoir’s pastel images is often difficult because favorite themes recur and his style remains relatively consistent over many years. The pastels for counterproofs in this collection were documented by Vollard on large glass slides, but these were in black and white, and so, for many of the pastels, the counterproofs provide our first knowledge of their colors. Renoir scholar Pascal Perrin believes that the revelation of the colors will help in more precise dating of the pastels.

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