Auguste Renoir

Venus Victorious

1914, cast ?c.1916

Not on display

Auguste Renoir 1841–1919
Original title
Vénus victorieuse
Object: 1848 × 1118 × 775 mm
Purchased 1950

Display caption

The figure of Venus in this sculpture is based on the image of the goddess in a painting by Renoir, 'The Judgement of Paris'. In Greek myth Aphrodite (known to the Romans as Venus) competed for the prize of a golden apple, which she won by promising Paris that he could marry Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world. Renoir's sculpture shows Venus holding the apple in her moment of triumph. Renoir's conception of this work was influenced by memories of antique sculpture and by the 'modern classicism' of the contemporary sculptor Maillol. Severely crippled by arthritis, Renoir was helped in making this sculpture by an assistant, Richard Guino.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Auguste Renoir 1841-1919

N05934 Vénus victorieuse (Venus Victorious) 1914

Inscribed 'Renoir | 1914' on upper surface of base; 'Alexis Rudier. | Fondeur. Paris' on back of base
Bronze, 71 ¾ x 44 x 30 ½ (182.5 x 102 x 77.5)
Purchased from the Fonderie Alexis Rudier, the founders (Cleve Fund), 1950
Exh: Renoir, RSA, Edinburgh, August-September 1953 (47, repr.); Tate Gallery, September-October 1953 (47, repr.); Pioneers of Modern Sculpture, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1973 (168)
Lit: Ambroise Vollard, La Vie et l'Oeuvre de Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Paris 1919), pp.192, 260; Karl Ernst Osthaus, 'Erinnerungen an Renoir' in Feuer, I, February 1920, pp.317-15; Georges Rivière, Renoir et ses Amis (Paris 1921), p.252; Waldemar George, 'L'Oeuvre Sculpté de Renoir' in L'Amour de l'Art, 1924, pp.332, 339-40, repr. pp.334-5; Albert André, Renoir (Paris 1928), p.51; Julius Meier-Graefe, Renoir (Leipzig 1929), pp.351-65, 370-1, repr. pp.404-5; Ambroise Vollard, 'Souvenirs sur Renoir, Sculpteur' in exh. catalogue Renoir: L'Oeuvre Sculpté, l'Oeuvre Gravé, Aquarelles et Dessins, Beaux-Arts, Paris, October-November 1934; André Warnod, 'M. Pierre Renoir évoque pour nous le Souvenir de son Père à propos d'une Exposition des Sculptures de Renoir' in Le Figaro, 23 October 1934, p.8 repr.; Ambroise Vollard, Recollections of a Picture Dealer (London 1936), p.250; Walter Pach, Queer Thing, Painting (New York and London 1938), pp. 144-6; Lionello Venturi, Les Archives de l'Impressionnisme (Paris-New York 1939), Vol.2, p.135; Una E. Johnson, Ambroise Vollard, Editeur, 1867-1939 (New York 1944), No.155, pp.132, 135; Paul Haesaerts, Renoir Sculptor (New York 1947), No.6, pp.21-6, 33, 40, repr. pls.14-21
Repr: John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery (London 1958), pl.13

Venus, the Goddess of Love, holds the golden apple awarded to her by Paris in token of her beauty.

The only sculptures which Renoir executed entirely with his own hands were a medallion and a bust of Coco made in 1907-8, and even then his hands were partly paralysed. When he expressed a wish to take up sculpture again a few years later his hands were completely disabled; but his dealer, Ambroise Vollard, made the astute suggestion that he should use the services of an assistant, Richard Guino, a young sculptor who had been a pupil of Maillol. According to one report, Renoir said: 'Vollard then cleverly asked me to give some advice to a young sculptor of talent who intended to execute something after one of my pictures. I allowed myself to be persuaded, we made a little statuette, then, from counsel to counsel, a large statue' (A. André, op. cit.). This first statuette was a 'Small Standing Venus' 60cm high modelled in 1913 and the large statue which was developed from it was the 'Large Standing Venus' or 'Venus Victorious'. The initial idea for these figures came from one of Renoir's old drawings.

The most detailed account of the making of the large figure is given by Haesaerts, op. cit. Before setting Guino definitively to work, Renoir wrote to his friend Albert André asking him to go and measure the relative dimensions of a Greek statue of a woman. 'Not the Venus de Milo', he said, 'who is a big gendarme, but the Venus d'Arles or the Venus de Medici, for instance, or others.' The modelling in clay was done in a makeshift cellar of 'Les Collettes', Renoir's house at Cagnes. Renoir made a few sketches to show how he conceived the new expression of the head and the new movement of the drapery. Guino also had a model at his disposal: Maria, a young woman from Essoyes, who posed frequently for Renoir. When the clay was well advanced, Renoir decided to have it cast in plaster. He then went back to work on it, determined to review it volume by volume; he wanted his statue to be alive and free of the abstract, though on the other hand not to 'stink of the model'. This phase of the work was carried out in the open air, under the olive trees in the garden, while Renoir directed the work of his assistant by means of a pointer.

Several writers, including Vollard himself, relate that Renoir was dissatisfied with the 'Venus' for some months until he had the idea to raise the breasts a little. According to Haesaerts, the work which was altered in this fashion was the 'Small Venus'. However Meier-Graefe states that Renoir was dissatisfied with the 'Venus Victorious', which had already been cast, and made Guino begin it again and set the breasts a couple of centimetres higher. This seems to be correct. It is at any rate fairly certain that the 'Venus Victorious' passed through more than one state as the cast exhibited at La Triennale in Paris in March-April 1916 (152) - the first public showing of Renoir's sculpture - was described as 'Second cast of the 1st state', and the cast in the Petit Palais is inscribed 'ETAT D.TIF VI', i.e. final state VI. The Tate Gallery's bronze appears to correspond to the Petit Palais cast and is therefore of the final revised state, though there is no inscription to this effect.

Some disagreement also exists over the dating of the 'Venus Victorious' which Haesaerts assigns to 1915-16. The date inscribed on the present cast is 1914 and K.E. Osthaus records that the large figure was already far advanced when he visited Renoir at Cagnes in the spring of that year. There exists moreover a letter from Renoir dated 19 April 1914 authorizing Vollard to reproduce the 'Statuette with socle "Judgment of Paris", large Statue with socle "Judgment of Paris", and clock "Triumph of Love"'. This does not entirely exclude the possibility that the revised version was made, or at least finished, in the following year.

Renoir's intention was to make a monument of the 'Venus' with a pedestal which would be decorated with a relief depicting the whole scene of the contest over the apple, and for the base of the 'Venus Victorious' he made with Guino's assistance a low-relief measuring 73 x 91cm of the 'Judgement of Paris' after one of his paintings. Later, in 1919, after he had quarrelled with Guino, he wanted the well-known sculptor Marcel Gimond to execute a 'Temple of Love' after his drawings for the garden at 'Les Collettes': it was to consist of a hemicycle about 350cm in diameter supporting a cupola, with the 'Venus Victorious' in the centre.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.625-6, reproduced p.625

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