A leading painter during the Impressionist period was the French artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. As someone who celebrated beauty, Renoir painted a number of portraits in his long career
One of those paintings was Child with Cat Julie Manet.
For many years Renoir was a close friend of the artist Berthe Morisot and her husband, Eugène Manet. Eugène was the brother of the painter, Édouard Manet (best known for A Bar at the Folies Bergeres, Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe and Olympia). Recognising Renoir’s talent and because of their friendship with him, the Manet’s asked Renoir to paint a portrait of their daughter Julie Manet. Renoir agreed, and in 1887 he produced the work we know as ‘Child with Cat Julie Manet’.
Renoir did at least four drawings in preparation for the painting. He made few changes to how he posed the model. What did change was deciding not pose her in a frontal presentation. The result is that the final picture shows Julie Manet sitting at an angle for the portrait. She is holding a cat in her lap.
When later asked about the sitting, Julie Manet said that she recalled that the picture of her was a good resemblance. She did note that Renoir had not applied his usual way of working in producing the picture. He worked on small sections to create the detail seen in the portrait. What comes through in the painting is how successful Renoir is in capturing the sensitivity and affection of his young model.
Pablo Picasso is probably the best known artist for work with cats, counting the likes of Cat and Cat and Bird within his huge career output.
The portrait is an oil on canvas painting. It has the title Child with Cat (‘L’Enfant au chat’) as well as ‘Julie Manet’. The painting was initially owned by the model, Julie Manet and later part of the family collection. In 1999, the State accepted the painting for the National Museums as payment of inheritance tax. In accepting the painting, the decision was that it should go to the Musée d'Orsay. The painting ‘Child with Cat Julie Manet’ now resides in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France.
The painting ‘Child with Cat Julie Manet’ was her first for Renoir as a model. It was not, however, the only time she sat for him. Renoir painted a portrait of her as a teenager in 1894. Julie Manet appears in several paintings by her mother, the artist Berthe Morisot. She also posed for other Impressionist artists, including her uncle, Édouard Manet.
Although Renoir is best known as an Impressionist painter, by the mid-1880’s, he was no longer part of the movement. He believed that his works were not going in the direction he wanted. This was Renoir’s ‘Ingres Period’. It saw him adopting a more methodical and structured technique to portraits and figure paintings.
His new focus on line and drawing and the use of vivid colours upset some of his close friends. However, Berthe Morisot, the artist and mother of Julie Manet liked his new approach. Renoir’s ‘Ingres Period’ came to an end after 1890. His style went back to being more in line with his collective works.