Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Algerian Girl, 1881
Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Subject and Style
Renoir traveled to Algeria in 1881 and again in 1882, producing nearly thirty paintings that capture the North African landscape, people, and monuments. [1] These trips came at a pivotal moment in his career, after he had declined to exhibit in the fourth and fifth Impressionist exhibitions of 1879 and 1880 in favor of returning to the official Salon and a more classical style. Renoir had begun exploring Orientalist themes in his Paris studio as early as 1870, painting Parisian models dressed in Algerian costumes. [2]

To the Armory Show
Parisian dealer Durand-Ruel lent the majority of the Impressionist paintings exhibited at the Armory Show, including Renoir’s Algerian Girl, which he purchased from the artist in 1882. [3] The painting provided a link between past and present, for it situated the artist between Romantic Orientalism and the new exoticisms of Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse.

The response
Critic Frank J. Mather, Jr. found it “hard to imagine painting more sensitively lovely than…a seated portrait of a girl in Levantine costume.” [4] Perhaps as a result of its high visibility at the Armory Show, the American collector Hannah Marcy Edwards purchased Algerian Girl from Durand-Ruel in October 1913.

[1] Roger Benjamin, Renoir and Algeria (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 3. It is unclear whether this painting dates to the 1881 or 1882 trip. Renoir’s letters indicate that he had difficulty painting figures during his first trip to Algeria in 1881, making it more likely that he completed this work during his second trip in 1882, when he executed a number of paintings representing Algerian women and children. Colin Bailey notes that “a careful reading of the inscriptions at lower right strongly suggests that the virtually illegible date was added to the signature later on.” See Colin Bailey, “Renoir and Algeria,” in Burlington Magazine 145, no. 1206 (September 2003): 684.

[2]  See, for example, Renoir’s Women of Algiers (1870, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and Parisian Women Dressed as Algerians (1872, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo). Although the accuracy of the painted textiles, costume, and jewelry in Algerian Girl reflects the artist’s new first-hand knowledge of North African material culture, the model’s light complexion has led some scholars to question her ethnicity. See Benjamin, 84, and Bailey, 684.

[3] Durand-Ruel exhibited the painting in New York three times before the Armory Show: at the National Academy of Design in 1887, and at his gallery in 1900 and 1908. Guy-Patrice Dauberville, Michel Dauberville, and Camille Frémontier Murphy, Renoir: catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles (Paris: Éditions Bernheim-Jeune, 2007), 348.

[4] Frank J. Mather, “Old and New Art,” The Nation 9, no. 2488 (March 6, 1913): 241.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

The French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a leader of the Impressionist movement, exhibiting with the group in Paris in 1874, 1876, 1877, and 1882. His Impressionist works feature vibrant light and saturated color, capturing people in everyday moments. By the 1880s his style became more formal and disciplined, but he returned to a looser style in the 1890s, focusing primarily on the female nude as his subject.

Renoir’s work was first shown in New York at the 1886 exhibition of Impressionist painting organized by the Paris-based dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. [1] Though American critics and collectors initially favored Claude Monet’s landscapes over Renoir’s figure paintings, by 1904 taste changed in Renoir’s favor. [2] His connection to traditional figure painting, use of rich color, and cheerful idealizations of everyday life appealed to American sensibilities and he was soon regarded as the leading Impressionist innovator. [3] In 1907 the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased Renoir’s Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children (1878), then the most contemporary work in its collection. [4] Durand-Ruel mounted solo exhibitions of Renoir’s work in New York in 1908, 1912, and February 1913, drawing praise from conservative and progressive critics alike. [5]

When the Armory Show opened, Renoir was among the most well-known and well-respected artists in the United States. Most critics counted him among the accepted masters of the past, the “grandfathers of the new art,” whose work seemed “gentle and lovely … after the noise of the other galleries.” [6]

[1] Because of the favorable response, Durand-Ruel opened a gallery in New York in 1888 to exhibit and sell Impressionist work.

[2] Anne Dawson, Idol of the Moderns: Pierre-Auguste Renoir and American Painting (San Diego: San Diego Museum of Art, 2002), 14-15.

[3] Ibid., 27.

[4] Roger E. Fry, “The Charpentier Family by Renoir,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 2, no. 6 (June 1907): 102-104.

[5] For an in depth analysis of this criticism, see Anne Dawson, “Idol of the Moderns”: Renoir’s Critical Reception in America, 1904-1940 (Ph.D. diss., Brown University, 1996), 92-93.

[6] C. Owen Lublin, “Through the Galleries,” Town and Country (March 1, 1913): 44.

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