Painted on commission from the French government in early 1892, Two Girls at the Piano pays witness to Pierre Auguste Renoir at the height of his commercial success. The painting was to be included in the inauguration of a new museum in Paris devoted to the celebration of living masters, the Musée du Luxembourg. Helped by his friend, supporter, and leading poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who recognized the lack of appreciation given to the living masters of his day. He convinced a member of the Beaux Arts administration to look towards new trends and to bring the Impressionist movement into the museums.
Choosing to produce a reproduction of a domestic scene, Renoir's Two Girls at the Piano is a lavish and intricate demonstration of the technical skill that came to identify the Impressionist movement. Aware of his need to amaze, the artist refined his composition in a series of five studies. Three other versions using an almost identical mode of composition sit in some of the most prestigious museums and private collections in the world. The robust, supple underdrawing allows movement and maneuver of the thin and starkly visible brushstrokes. While the subject matter is muted and romantic, the sheer variety of studies – in oil, in pastel – is a testament to the artist's desire to be included in the historical canon based on his technical perfection and refinement of the composition.
The theme of painting an idealized scene featuring a reproduction of the likenesses of two innocent, graceful figures toying with the temporal art of music recalled that of eighteenth-century French Realist painters, yet Renoir's setting of the scene in a distinctly late XIX century bourgeois drawing room situates the work firmly in the present. Renoir certainly knew how to paint not only for an audience but also for an institution.
In the oil painting Two Girls at the Piano, Renoir portrays two graceful female figures looking at sheet music. The girl sitting at the piano is blond and holds a page of the music book with her left hand while playing the piano with her right. The girl next to her leans on the piano with her elbow, holds the decorated golden chair with her other hand as a balance and has dark reddish hair. There is a colorful flower arrangement on the piano, and a curtain painted in orange and green in the background.
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