We’re going to take a slightly different direction with this post. Because there are too many fun facts about Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children to pass up, in no particular order, here are five pieces of trivia about Renoir’s illustrious painting.
1. In the 1870s and 80s, Renoir was an in-demand society painter and it all started with this painting. Madame Charpentier and Her Children was commissioned in 1878 and first exhibited at the Impressionist Salon of 1879. Viewers and critics instantly recognized socialite Madame Charpentier as the wife of Georges Charpentier, the head of a successful publishing house. Society followers took note and a trend was born.
2. This painting features Madame Charpentier with her son and daughter. Yes, you read that correctly. Her son is in the painting. Paul is seated on the sofa next to his mother while his sister Georgette perches on the family’s Newfoundland. And while it was fairly common for young boys to be dressed like girls while they were very young, it was much less common for a boy to be dressed exactly like his older sister in matching white silk reception dresses.
3. This portrait also reflected the relatively new development in portrait painting of including the subjects’ surroundings. We can clearly see the Charpentier’s luxurious living room decked out in the of-the-moment Japanese style with painted screens and bamboo furniture. If you’ve yet to go through the exhibition, take note. Japanese influence in interiors is evident in several other paintings.
4. The Charpentiers had very close relationships with many 19th-century French luminaries. In addition to Renoir referring to himself as the Charpentier’s court painter, Madame also hosted a very influential Parisian salon, welcoming artists like Degas, Monet, and Manet and writers like Zola (Paul’s godfather) and Flaubert into her home.
5. When the Charpentier’s collection was sold at auction in 1907, The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased it through an intermediary for the unprecedented sum of 92,400 francs. It was thus the first painting added to the Met’s collection of Impressionist art.
Image Credit: Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children, 1878. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.