Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud


Auguste Renoir
A Couple
, c. 1868

Probably we shall never establish beyond doubt the identity of the lady depicted in the painting. For a long time it was thought that Renoir had portrayed his fellow-artist and friend Alfred Sisley with his wife Marie Lescouezec pausing briefly to exchange a loving glance while walking through a park. However, after thorough research, it has proved impossible to demonstrate any likeness to the historical Marie, and so today, we only talk of ‘a couple’. For this was what was important to Renoir: the relationship between two people as expressed in an affectionate movement.

How wonderfully Renoir has ‘staged’ this simple and everyday happening! The graceful hint of a moment, and its immortalization on canvas, the brilliant depiction of the costly silk fabric, which, with its red and gold stripes and clearly of the best quality, dominates the picture. The background is out of focus, so as not to distract from the main motif: the couple. Renoir’s mastery can be seen in all these aspects.

The picture was probably painted in the studio, for the light is somewhat wan and not as one would perceive it in the open air. And yet it is a major witness to the early days of Impressionism, dating from six years before the opening of the famous first Impressionist exhibition in the former studio of the Parisian photographer Nadar. Everything is already present in the compositional lay-in: the snapshot of the pause, with its reason in a word or a thought, the sensuous depiction of the fabrics in their palpable quality and the appearance of their colours, in other words the totally spontaneous ‘impression’ of the painter on seeing a couple out walking. And yet we still seem to feel, in the composition and in the treatment of the incident light, the strong traditions of academic painting.

Auguste Renoir (Limoges 1841 – 1919 Cagnes): The Couple (Les fiancés), c. 1868. Oil on canvas, 105 x 75 cm. Acquired in 1912. Inv. no. WRM 1199. Photo: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln

Auguste Renoir
Limoges 1841 – 1919 Cagnes

A Couple (Les Fiancés)
c. 1868, Oil on canvas, 105 x 75 cm
Acquired in 1912
Inv. no. WRM 1199
Photo: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln