Portrait of Victor Chocquet - by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

A kind of fame belongs to this otherwise obscure customs office clerk: he was friend and sitter to some of the greatest artists of his time. Passionately devoted to progressive art, Victor Chocquet had seen Renoir's work at the historic Impressionist sale at the Hotel Drouot in 1875. He immediately wrote, begging him to do a portrait of Mime. Chocquet with one of Delacroix's pictures in the background. "I want the two of you together, you and Eugene Delacroix." Subsequently Renoir painted Victor Chocquet twice. That the painter was touched by the man's eagerness, sensitivity and gentleness is obvious in this affectionate portrait, painted at a time when Renoir was sorely in need of a patron, and beset by financial problems.

A fine, high-keyed tonality and a lightness of brushing mark Renoir's authentic manner of this period, differing from the tighter rendering of his society portrait commissions. In this relaxed portrait, there is a wonderful combination of sympathetic understanding of the sitter's personality and a graceful skill that harmonizes perfectly with it.

Cezanne painted Chocquet, too; in his version one is struck immediately by Cezanne's rugged, almost fierce modeling, his preoccupation with structure, the bones beneath the flesh. Renoir, captivated by his sitter's personality, reveals how much more important to him was the projection of the spirit of the man (in the last analysis, when portraitists are at their best, they are painting themselves as well as their sitters).

One sees here, in the casual, almost untidy painting of the hair and shirt, still more of that interest in the informal that produced Renoir's most intimate portraits. In the delicate, free painting of the fingers, whose outlines are inexact, there is much of the instinctive and tentative; Renoir's true interest was in things as experienced and felt.

Out of meager financial resources, Chocquet bought canvases from Renoir, Cezanne, and the other Impressionists before their work was widely appreciated. He strenuously fought for the recognition of the young painters, and man-aged to build a magnificent collection of their works. The collection was dispersed after his death.