Artwork Detail

La laveuse (Washerwoman)
French, 1841–1919
48 x 22 x 53 "
Gift of Morton D. May, 1964
WU 4198
The French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a leading painter in the development of Impressionism, a movement in which artists combined objective observation of the natural world with the subjective experience of the artist. This sculpture is one of Renoir’s last works, produced two years before his death in 1919 and in collaboration with Spanish sculptor Richard Guinó Boix. It represents a turn away from his Impressionist beginnings toward a monumental classicism. With the massive La Laveuse, or Washerwoman, Renoir depicts a crouching nude, holding wet drapery in her hands, that recalls Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty, sex, fertility, and prosperity. In Roman mythology Venus is often described as being born from the foam of the sea, a generative force essential to the balance of life. Renoir’s sculpture was originally intended as one of a pair of large figures with the subjects “Fire” and “Water,” their elemental opposition to be symbolized by a blacksmith and a washerwoman. The figure of the blacksmith was never completed. The subject of the monumental female nude was one that Renoir returned to repeatedly toward the end of his life, highlighting the artist’s embrace of what he termed “eternal things” in opposition to the fleeting impressions of modernity he once championed. [Cell phone tour, 2019]