Pierre Auguste Renoir
(Limoges, 1841-1919, Cagnes)
Portrait Mademoiselle Irène Cahen d`Anvers (Little Irene), 1880
Oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm
Signed & dated upper right: Renoir 80
Dauberville 506
Landscape painters were in the majority among the Impressionists who exhibited their work to the general public for the first time in 1874. There were a few, however, who mainly painted people, such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir. This picture of a young girl seated, facing left, is called La petite Irène, meaning 'Little Irene'. She was the eight-year-old daughter of a Paris banker, who commissioned Renoir to paint the portrait in 1880. It came to be regarded as a shining example of child portraiture, in which the artist combines elegant clothes and styled hair with the innocent expression of childhood. Especially appealing is the contrast between the flowing lines of loose red hair and swirling dabs of background foliage on the one hand and the finely elaborated features of the girl's face on the other. The precision of the latter is a reminder that Renoir first worked as a painter of porcelain before studying further under the Swiss painter Charles Gleyre in Paris. Irène Cahen d'Anvers, which was the girl's full name, later married a rich French banker who upon his death left his Paris house, furnished and decorated in the style of the eighteenth century to be opened as a museum. It still exists today and is known as the Musée Nissim de Camondo. Irène's second marriage was to an Italian, the Count of Sampieri. Emil Bührle purchased the portrait from the sitter herself in 1949, after gaining permission from the French government for the painting to leave the country.