This work is one of an extensive series painted around 1895-1896 in which Renoir brought together his second son Jean and Gabrielle, the family’s faithful servant. The painter thus created a veritable album of his son’s early childhood. Jean Renoir had some strong recollections of this period: “When I was still very little, three, four or five years old, my father did not tell me how I was to pose but took advantage of some occupation that seemed to keep me quiet.” Renoir could count on the active cooperation of Gabrielle who could always find a way to hold the attention of the young model.
Here she has the child on her knee and is keeping him busy with the farm animals. In this painting in the Musée de l’Orangerie, the figurines are unobtrusively brushed in and blend into the surface of the table. We can barely recognise the cow in Gabrielle’s hand. Similarly the background is indistinct. On the right we can make out a printed fabric that Renoir used to place behind his models to provide a background in his compositions.
There is another version of Gabrielle et Jean (private collection) which looks more finished, in which the servant is holding a cockerel, and the figurines are much clearer.
Provenance: Ambroise Vollard (?); Paul Guillaume (?); Domenica Walter