Hoping to recapture the success he had achieved with Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children (07.122) at the Salon of 1879, Renoir sought to paint the daughters of his friend Catulle Mendès. In addition to the girls’ manifest charm, he undoubtedly counted on the notoriety of their bohemian parents to gain attention: their father was a Symbolist poet and publisher, and their mother was the virtuoso pianist Augusta Holmès. Renoir completed the commission in a matter of weeks and immediately exhibited the large canvas in May 1888, but the response to his new manner of painting, with its intense hues and schematized faces, was unenthusiastic.
Inscription: Signed and dated (upper right): Renoir 88.
father of the sitters, Abraham-Catulle Mendès (called Catulle Mendès), Paris (from 1888; commissioned from the artist for Fr 500); [Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, until 1905; sold to Berthier]; Louis-Alexandre Berthier, prince de Wagram, Paris (1905–d.1918); his sister, Elisabeth Marguerite, princesse de la Tour d'Auvergne-Lauraguais, Paris (1918–29; sold to Knoedler); [Knoedler, New York, in shares with The LefevreGallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre), London, 1929; sold to Rothschild]; baron Maurice de Rothschild, Paris (1929–30; sold to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, Paris and New York, in shares with Paul Rosenberg, Paris and New York, 1930–54; sold by Wildenstein on December 30 to Simon]; Mr. S. Simon, New York (1954–64; sold in January 1964 Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, New York, 1964–66; sold May 16 to Annenberg]; Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, Rancho Mirage, Calif. (1966–98; jointly with MMA, 1998–his d. 2002)
Paris. Galerie Durand-Ruel. "Exposition Brown, Boudin, Caillebotte, Lépine, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Whistler," May 25–June 25, 1888, no. 23 (as "Portraits de Mlles C. M.").
Paris. Salon. May 1–?, 1890, no. 2024 (as "Portraits de Mlles M . . . ").
Paris. Musée de l'Orangerie. "Exposition Renoir, 1841–1919," 1933, no. 85 (as "Les Filles de Catulle Mendès au piano," lent by MM. Wildenstein et Cie, Paris).
Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Museum of Art. "Manet and Renoir," November 29, 1933–January 1, 1934, no catalogue [see Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin 29 (December 1933), p. 20].
Toledo Museum of Art. "French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists," November 1934, no. 18 (as "The Children of Mme. Augusta Holmes at the Piano," lent by Wildenstein and Company, New York).
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Independent Painters of Nineteenth Century Paris," March 15–April 28, 1935, no. 46 (as "Les Filles de Catulle Mendés [sic]," lent by Wildenstein and Company, New York).
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Great Portraits from Impressionism to Modernism," March 1–29, 1938, no. 38 (as "The Children of Catulle Mendès," lent by Wildenstein & Co., Inc.).
Amsterdam. Stedelijk Museum. "Honderd Jaar Fransche Kunst," July 2–September 25, 1938, no. 217 (as "Les filles de Catulle Mendès au piano," lent by G. Wildenstein & Cie, Paris).
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "The Great Tradition of French Painting," June–October 1939, no. 37 (as "The Children of Catulle-Mendes [sic]").
New York. Duveen Galleries. "Renoir, Centennial Loan Exhibition, 1841-1941," November 8–December 6, 1941, no. 59 (as "Les Enfants de Catulle-Mendès [The Children of Catulle-Mendès] [sic]," lent by Wildenstein & Co., New York).
New York. Museum of Modern Art. "Art in Progress," May 24–October 15, 1944, unnumbered cat. (ill. p. 22, as "The Children of Catulle-Mendès [sic]," lent by Wildenstein & Co.).
San Francisco. California Palace of the Legion of Honor. "Paintings by Pierre Auguste Renoir," November 1–30, 1944, unnumbered cat. (ill. p. 32, as "The Children of Catulle Mendes [sic]," lent by WIldenstein and Company, New York).
New Orleans. Isaac Delgado Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of French Painting through Five Centuries, 1400–1900," October 17, 1953–January 10, 1954, no. 77 (as "The Children of Catulle-Mendès [sic]," lent anonymously).
Paris. Galerie Beaux-Arts. "Chefs-d'œuvre de Renoir," July 10–27, 1954, no. 36 (as "Les filles de Catulle-Mendès [sic] au piano").
Fort Worth Art Center. "Inaugural Exhibition," October 8–31, 1954, no. 83 (as "Children of Catulle-Mendes [sic]," lent by Wildenstein and Company, New York).
New York. Wildenstein. "Renoir," April 8–May 10, 1958, no. 49 (as "The Children of Catulle Mendès," lent by Mr. S. Simon).
Lausanne. Palais de Beaulieu. "Chefs-d'œuvre des collections suisses de Manet à Picasso," May 1–October 25, 1964, no. 351 (as "The Daughters of Catulle Mendès").
New York. Wildenstein. "Renoir: In Commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Renoir's Death," March 27–May 3, 1969, no. 95 (as "The Children of Catulle Mendès," lent by Ambassador and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg).
London. Tate Gallery. "The Annenberg Collection," September 2–October 8, 1969, no. 28 (as "The Children of Catulle Mendes").
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection," May 21–September 17, 1989, unnumbered cat. (as "The Daughters of Catulle Mendès").
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Masterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection," May 6–August 5, 1990, unnumbered cat.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection," August 16–November 11, 1990, unnumbered cat.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection," June 4–October 13, 1991, unnumbered cat.
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
Auguste Renoir. Letter to Catulle Mendès. April 1888 [published in French and English in Ref. Bailey 1991, pp. 44, 157 n. 4], proposes that he paint a life-size portrait of Mendès's three daughters for Fr 500, adding that he intends to exhibit the painting in May; includes a quick sketch of the proposed horizontal composition with a description of each girl's pose, suggesting "I shall do the drawings at your house and the portrait at mine".
Félix Fénéon. "Quelques impressionnistes." La Cravache. June 2, 1888 [reprinted in Fénéon, "Oeuvres," introduction by Jean Paulhan, Paris, 1948, p. 138].
Auguste Renoir. Letter to Catulle Mendès. November 27, 1888 [reproduced in "Künstler-Autographen von 1850 bis 1950," Gutekunst & Klipstein, Bern, May 14, 1958, no. 101], requests the [final] payment of Fr 100 for this painting.
Auguste Renoir. Letter to Catulle Mendès.  [excerpt published in "Autographes de peintres, anciens et modernes, livres illustrés modernes. Numéro 85," Marc Loliée, Paris, , no. 104], reports that he has made a frame for it.
Gustave Geffroy. La Vie artistique. Vol. 1, Paris, 1892, pp. 161–63, calls it among the few exceptional works at the Salon of 1890.
Arsène Alexandre. Exposition A. Renoir. Exh. cat., Durand-Ruel. Paris, 1892, p. 30.
C. L. de Moncade. "Le Peintre Renoir et le Salon d'Automne." La Liberté 10 (October 15, 1904), unpaginated [English translation published in Barbara Ehrlich White, ed., "Impressionism in Perspective," Englewood Cliffs, 1978, p. 22], comments that at the Salon of 1890 this picture was installed where it could not be seen.
Théodore Duret. Histoire des peintres impressionistes. Paris, 1906, p. 148, notes that this picture's exhibition in 1890 marked the last time that Renoir participated at the Salon.
Julius Meier-Graefe. Auguste Renoir. Munich, 1911, pp. 58, 146–48, 150, 160, ill. [French ed., 1912, pp. 54, 140, 142–43, 145, 156, ill.], as in the collection of Prince Wagram, Paris.
Charles Louis Borgmeyer. The Master Impressionists. Chicago, 1913, p. 148, claims that Renoir "painted these same children several years after in three very similar pictures, all called 'Au piano'".
Ambroise Vollard. Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Paintings, Pastels and Drawings. [reprint ed. 1989]. San Francisco, 1918, p. 89, no. 353, ill.
François Fosca. Renoir. Paris, 1923, p. 37.
Paul Jamot. "Renoir (1841–1919) (deuxième et dernier article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 5th ser., 8 (December 1923), p. 342.
Théodore Duret. Renoir. Paris, 1924, p. 71.
Ambroise Vollard. Renoir, An Intimate Record. New York, 1925, p. 242, as in the collection of the prince of Wagram, Paris.
Julius Meier-Graefe. Renoir. Leipzig, 1929, pp. 242–46, no. 197, ill.
R. H. Wile[n]ski. French Painting. Boston, 1931, p. 264, as in the WIldenstein collection.
"Manet and Renoir Figure Together in Loan Exhibition." Art News 32 (December 16, 1933), pp. 10–11, ill.
Arsène Alexandre. "Propos inédits de et sur Renoir." Les Nouvelles littéraires 2 (August 26, 1933), p. 8, states that the work was "absolument assassinée" (absolutely assassinated) by the jury's poor placement of the picture in the Salon of 1890.
Albert C. Barnes and Violette De Mazia. The Art of Renoir. New York, 1935, pp. 103–4, 414–15, 458, no. 167.
Claude Roger-Marx. Renoir. Paris, 1937, pp. 45–46, 88.
"Notable Paintings in the Art Market. Part II: Modern European Masters." Art News (December 25, 1937), pp. 10–11, ill.
Helen Comstock. "The Connoisseur in America: Loan Exhibition of French Portraits." Connoisseur 101 (April 1938), p. 205, ill.
The Great Tradition of French Painting. Exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co., Inc. [New York], 1939, p. 16, no. 37.
Charles Terrasse. Cinquante portraits de Renoir. Paris, 1941, unpaginated, pl. 26.
Alfred M. Frankfurter. Renoir, Centennial Loan Exhibition, 1841–1941. Exh. cat., Duveen Galleries. New York, 1941, pp. 148, 153–54, no. 59, ill. p. 81.
Michel Drucker. Renoir. Paris, 1944, pp. 79, 203, no. 95, ill.
Lucie and André Chamson. Renoir. Lausanne, 1949, p. 25, pl. 35.
Henri Perruchot. La Vie de Renoir. [Paris], 1964, pp. 234, 364.
Lawrence Hanson. Renoir: The Man, the Painter, and His World. New York, 1968, pp. 178, 234, 237.
M. Roy Fisher. The Annenberg Collection. Exh. cat., Tate Gallery. London, 1969, unpaginated, ill. (color).
M[arie].-G[eneviève]. de La Coste-Messelière. "Un Jeune prince amateur d'Impressionnistes et chauffeur." L'Oeil 179 (November 1969), pp. 24, 26, fig. 10, states that Wagram's sister, the princesse de la Tour d'Auvergne, inherited his collection [including this picture] after his death, and that she sold the collection to Knoedler in 1929.
François Daulte. Auguste Renoir: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint. Vol. 1, Figures. Lausanne, 1971, pp. 53, 416, no. 545, ill.
Elda Fezzi. L'opera completa di Renoir. [reprint ed., 1981]. Milan, 1972, p. 118, no. 634, ill.
François Daulte. Renoir. Garden City, N.Y., 1973, pp. 50–51, 54, fig. 1 (color detail), provides biographical information on the sitters; erroneously states that Renoir was "grossly underpaid" Fr 100 for this picture.
Barbara Ehrlich White. Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters. New York, 1984, pp. 178, 184, ill. p. 182 (color), erroneously refers to the sitters as Mendès's stepdaughters.
Anne Distel inRenoir. Exh. cat., Hayward Gallery. [London], 1985, p. 26, states that Bernheim-Jeune sold the painting to Wagram in 1905.
Denis Rouart. Renoir. revised ed. (1st ed., 1954). New York, 1985, pp. 80–81, ill.
Colin B. Bailey inMasterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection. Ed. Colin B. Bailey, Joseph J. Rishel, and Mark Rosenthal. Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 1991, pp. ix, 44–47, 156–57, ill. (color and black and white), notes that Renoir initiated the idea of this painting in his late April 1888 letter to Mendès [see Ref.] and illustrates the accompanying sketch of the composition; calls the price of Fr 500 a "prix d'ami" since Mendès was a friend and did not collect Impressionist pictures; remarks that it was painted quickly, with little reworking and compares its handling to "Bather" (sale, Sotheby's, New York, November 13, 1997, no. 120; D528); cites Fragonard's "The Music Lesson" of about 1765–72 (Musée du Louvre, Paris) as a possible source; comments that Renoir's "capacity for idealization and romance" obscures the "turbulent and highly unconventional ménage" of the sitters' parents, Mendès and Augusta Holmès; observes that the paperback novel on the piano refers to the literary world of their father.
Jérôme Coignard. "Le Salon de peinture de Mr. et Mrs. Annenberg." Beaux arts no. 92 (July–August 1991), pp. 66, 69, ill. (color).
Albert Kostenevich. Hidden Treasures Revealed: Impressionist Masterpieces and Other Important French Paintings Preserved by the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Exh. cat.New York, 1995, p. 112.
Colin B. Bailey in Colin B. Bailey. Renoir's Portraits: Impressions of an Age. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. New Haven, 1997, pp. 5–6, 16, 18–20, 45 n. 38, p. 49 n. 185, p. 210, fig. 8 (color), states that it was probably completed in about two weeks; mentions this picture as an example of Renoir's attempt to adapt the idealized language of the "Great Bathers" of 1884–87 (Philadelphia Museum of Art) to the portraits of his clients' children.
Ira Berkow. "Jewels in the Desert." Art News 97 (May 1998), pp. 147, 149, ill. p. 145 (color, installation photo).
Christie's Impressionist & Nineteenth Century Art. Christie's, New York. May 12, 1999, p. 50, under no. 17, fig. 1 (color).
Gary Tinterow in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1998–1999." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Fall 1999), pp. 5, 47, ill. (color).
Gary Tinterow. "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2002–2003." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 61 (Fall 2003), pp. 34–35, ill. (color).
Colin B. Bailey inMasterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein and Asher Ethan Miller. 4th rev. ed. [1st ed., 1989]. New York, 2009, pp. 127–35, no. 25, ill. (color), and ill. pp. viii, x (color, installation photos).
Guy-Patrice Dauberville and Michel Dauberville. Renoir: Catalogue raisonné des tableaux, pastels, dessins et aquarelles. Vol. 2, 1882–1894. Paris, 2009, pp. 171–72, no. 966, ill.
Augustin de Butler, ed. Écrits et propos sur l'art. By Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Paris, 2009, p. 59 n. 6, notes that it was so badly placed at the Salon of 1890 that Renoir gave up exhibiting his work at the official Salon thereafter.