Renoir at the Theatre: Looking at La Loge
21 February – 25 May 2008
Looking at La Loge in Detail
Pierre Auguste Renoir La Loge , 1874, oil on canvas, The Courtauld Gallery
La Loge, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, is one of most celebrated masterpieces of The Courtauld collection and one of the most important works of the Impressionist movement. Renoir at the Theatre: Looking at ‘La Loge’, places this painting at the heart of the exhibition to explore the making and meanings of this extraordinary work.
Theatre in Paris was a rapidly expanding industry during the 19th century, dominating the cultural life of the city. The theatre was an important place to see and to be seen. Wealth was flaunted; fashions paraded; allegiances made; and engagements announced. In turning away from the performance, Renoir focused instead upon the theatre as a social stage where status and relationships were on public display.
the heart of the painting is a complex play of
gazes enacted by the two figures seated in the
theatre box. An elegantly dressed woman lowers
her opera glasses, revealing herself to her admirers
in the theatre, whilst her male companion trains
his gaze elsewhere in the audience.
The gaze played an important theme in the work of caricaturists, who seized upon the audience as a rich theme for social satire. Depictions of men with over-sized opera glasses, middle-aged women struggling to maintain their appeal, fathers parading their elegant daughters, and gauche visitors from the provinces, all alluded to the fascination with the audience as a stage for social performance.
the sitters of La Loge, Renoir chose
his brother Edmund and Nini Lopez, a model
from Montmartre known as ‘Fish-Face’.
Edmund wears formal attire, consisting of a gilet, white shirt, starched cravat, black trousers and gold cufflinks, and is typical of an evening dress worn for the elite theatres. The sobriety of male dress eschewed class divisions, celebrating the growing social and political legitimacy of the middle classes. It also served to draw attention to the exuberant styles of their female companions.
Nini models a fashionable tenue de premiere, which was a dress to be worn for the opening night of a performance. This demi-toilette was known as the polonaise and consisted of an over-gown, which was looped up at the sides and back to create softly draped layers of fabric and is typical of the fashionable revival of eighteenth century styles.
Fashion was vital to the economy and came to form an icon of French national identity. With the aid of Hassmann's revolutionary changes to the urban physique, the number of couturiers rocketed and new inventions such as the sewing machine allowed the mass production of more intricate and elaborate forms of dress.
Diamond earrings, a pearl necklace and a gold bracelet were luxury accessories completing the composition. The rose on Nini's dress draws our eyes towards a fashionably enticing décolletage, which was afforded by new developments in the manufacture of corsetry.
A rose in the sitter’s hair draws attention to a simple, yet elegant, style, though an x-ray of the painting in 1997 suggests that Renoir may have originally painted his model wearing a black rimless hat. Her companion sports a kempt beard, moustache and hair. Its slight wispy manner, however, may denote the qualities of an artisan.
The female subject holds a black fan and laced-edged handkerchief while resting the other hand on the red plush at the front of the theatre box. Bare hands were unacceptable on such formal occasions and etiquette guides would advise the exact shade and material of glove for both men and women. The choice of white silk illustrates artistic awareness of such instruction.
THE ART OF THE CHIC PARISIENNE:
To Renoir, dress was primarily for the pleasures of the eye. The delicate brushstrokes used to depict Nini's dress, and its sensual tones reminiscent of her rice powdered skin, are at the heart the Renoir’s depiction of a very elusive concept: the art of being 'chic'. A contemporary critic known as Bertall described ‘chic’ as a ‘bearing, ease of manner, appearance and impromptu elegance…’ It is through the magical alchemy of this great artist that the spirit of fashion, and the lure of the la loge, is captured.