In 1877 Renoir met the actress Jeanne Samary. Art critics wrote she was a very important person in the life of the artist. He created three portraits of Samary and they are among the best works of Renoir. And each portrait significantly differs in composition, color and even size from one another.
Jeanne came from a theatrical family.
Her grandmother Suzanne Brohan and her aunts Augustine et Madeleine Brohan from her mother's side were actresses at the Comedie Francaise.
Her father was a cellist in the Paris Opera orchestra; the son of a village fiddler was mostly noted for his remarkably polished nails that he took care of with the greatest diligence and washed his hands every half hour. There were four children in the family and Jeanne's elder sister Mary had a brilliant career in the Odeon theatre and later in the Renaissance Theater. She outlived her brothers and sisters and imperceptibly died in the defeated Paris during WWI. The eldest brother became a violinist in the operetta and later a famous Parisian antiquarian. The youngest brother, Henry, was an actor at the Comedie Francaise, a very successful one.
Yet Henry believed that he failed as an actor and left the theatre and worked with his elder brother in antiques business. He married a glamorous actress Juliette Mealy, became her impresario. He died of peritonitis at the age of 37.
At 14 Jeanne enrolled in drama school, and at 18 she made her debut at the Comedie Francaise in the role of Doreen in Moliere's "Tartuffe."
Her fame grew rapidly. Jeanne was as famous as the great Sarah Bernhardt, not less.
By the end of 1870s Auguste Renoir was also well known, the 36-year-old slender man, thoughtful and serious.
Renoir did not like the Comedie Francaise, but he often went to see her at the Comedie Francaise: "It shows how much I wanted to see her; for that's one place you don't have much fun." Although, as the son of the artist, Jean Renoir, mentions in his book Renoir: My Father, there was never any question of his marrying her. "Renoir is not the marrying kind," said Samary. "He marries all the women he paints - but with his brush."
In the spring of 1877 the famous photographer Nadar took pictures of a famous actress Jeanne Samary.
Looking at the photo one wouldn't say she was pretty - a simpleton with a heavy chin, plump figure, ugly hair.
That spring Renoir paints her first portrait after they met in the salon of Madame Charpentier. (He received, through a friend, commissions to paint the portraits of Madame Charpentier, a lady with much influence in literary and artistic circles, and of Mademoiselle Jeanne Samary, a member of the Comédie-Francaise, and a public favourite. Refusal of these portraits was impossible, and they were hung in the Salon of 1879.)
Renoir's son believed that Jeanne's parents arranged their meeting and commissioned her portrait with the far-reaching intentions. They would be happy to have Renoir their son in law.
On that January evening Jeanne was invited to read poetry, then she spoke with Auguste. Some prominent artists had already painted - and exhibited in the Salon! - her portraits. Jeanne talked about how those portraits lacked for the immediate impression of freshness, for the purity of colors, radiant colors.
Janna Samary, in a simple dark jacket with a small collar and a big red bow, looks sincere and of vivid temperament.
Jean Renoir mentions in his book that Renoir was in such a hurry to start working, that he didn't even say hello. The room was well lit only from 1 to 3 pm.
As just in a month Renoir the next portrait of Jeanne, we can assume that the first portrait didn't satisfy him.
Renoir worked on this portrait of the actress with a great dedication, expressing emotion, the excitement caused by the appearance and the talent of this fascinating woman.
Renoir in this portrait reached such dramatic contrasts and freedom of applying paint to canvas, which, no doubt, shocked, or plunged into a furious anger the public, critics and artists, brought up on the academic style of painting. It is hard to imagine that at that time someone dared to paint a portrait, using pink and green paint as main colors of the picture.
Renoir lightheartedly correlates them, applying on the canvas with small, separate strokes.
If you look at the color of Jeanne's open dress, you'll see the variety of the finest shades of green paint, deposited in the most fluent manner. The same can be said about the pink background enriched on the right side of the painting with blue paint. But all this, viewed from some distance produces a fresh and harmonious impression.
Jeanne loved the portrait and kept it in her appartment near La Place Pigalle where the 20 year old celebtrity lived with her parents.
Renoir admired the beauty of Jeanne and depicted her smile, sparkling blue eyes, face, fresh as a flower, on the canvas. Critics heaped praise on Renoir.
Next: Art Models and Renoir. Jeanne Samary (2)
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