Woman with a Letter

Femme à la lettre

This type of figure, in a slightly stiff pose, is quite unusual for Renoir. Indeed, the painter preferred to capture his models in more natural positions. The young woman, seen in three-quarter view, seated, her head resting on her right hand, appears to be pondering the contents of a letter that she is holding in her left hand.
The letter is simply a pretext for Renoir, who here depicts a young woman in the style of the 18th century fantasy figures painted by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), several of which are conserved at the Musée du Louvre. Despite the model's static pose and her gaze averted from the viewer, the painting exudes both great joy and freshness.
The same young woman can be seen posing in other works by Renoir. He painted her twice standing, wearing the same outfit, holding a basket of oranges, for a composition produced for the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922). He painted her in ochre and watercolour. Finally, she posed for a painting entitled Jeune bretonne [Young Breton Woman], conserved in a private collection.
The red tones of the skirt and the straps contrast here with the white of the corsage and the blue tones of the pinafore and the background. The dominant use of this colour is a rarity in the artist's work.

Provenance: Ambroise Vollard (?); Paul Guillaume (1924); Domenica Walter