Madame Henriot - by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Who but Renoir could have given us a vision so rare and utterly charming? Who else could so miraculously capture this ineffable beauty and delicacy, the essence of femininity? The picture is so like a happy dream that it is a little hard to think of it as a portrait of a real and mortal being. Other painters - Renoir's idols, Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard, for instance - have given us charm and delicacy; but almost no one has succeeded so completely in etherealizing a personality, while yet keeping it close and warm and human.

We know that the subject is something really seen: this is Renoir's magic. The figure is painted with a minimum of stylization, in colors atmospheric, diffuse, opalescent. With wonderful taste, Renoir gives fluidity to the lightness and bluishness of the whole, even though in order to do so he was obliged to sacrifice correctness, as in the drawing of the hands and arms, the neck and shoulders.

In its high-keyed tonality the whole canvas seems a radiance, its luminosity reaching a climax in the head. Through the very dark accents of the golden brown hair and the sparkling brilliance of the eyes, Renoir further assures the dominance of the face. Through the lovely, shadowless porcelain colors of the skin, the suppression of the drawing of the nose except for the accents of the nostrils, the striking emphasis of the eyes, Renoir makes of the features a serene, decorative ensemble. Many of these devices have determined a mode that has since been popularized by portraitists and fashion illustrators the world over. The superficialities can be copied; the poetic imagination that could conjure up such an image is Renoir's alone.

The sitter is Mme. Henriot, who often posed for Renoir at this time. She was an actress of the Comedie Francaise; through Renoir's pictures of her she has become the very image of womanhood at its loveliest.