Pierre Auguste Renoir was one of the most dedicated figure painters among the Impressionists. Enveloping his subjects, who were usually female, in an aura of fantasy and sensuality, he created a
confident, immensely appealing art. Like Manet, Mary Cassatt, and others, Renoir often painted women in domestic interiors, either daydreaming or reading. In
this painting, he depicted for the first time a model playing the piano, a subject to which he would frequently return.
The setting is richly appointed, with a patterned carpet, fabric-covered walls, a potted plant, and luxurious curtains. A pretty, young woman sits before a piano, her luminous, pink hands caressing the keyboard. Her performance seems effortless, like her beauty, as if the ravishing visual harmony she embodies extends naturally into the realm of sound. Her dress is a confection of white, diaphanous fabric over a bluish underdress, offset by a winding, dark band; it takes on, through the magic of Renoir's brush, a life of its own, its brilliant play of chromatic harmonies and counterpoint of sinuous and cascading rhythms suggesting the notes produced by the instrument. Designed to conceal, the garment also reveals, as we see from the glints of pink flesh picked out on the musician's shoulder and arm.
Woman at the Piano is not a portrait of an individual, nor a study of a social type. It is a portrayal of ideal womanhood, of a goddess transported from the heavens to a modern drawing room uncomplicated by the contingencies of the real world. The artist/performer is Renoir, the palette is his keyboard, and the woman at the piano is wholly his creation.