The woman holding the parrot is Pierre–Auguste Renoir’s friend Lise Tréhot (1848–1922), whose pretty, youthful features are recognizable in other canvases the artist painted between 1867 and 1872. He probably executed this picture soon after his return from service in the Franco-Prussian War in March 1871 and certainly before Lise married someone else in April 1872, evidently never to see Renoir again. The black silk dress with white cuffs and red sash accentuate Lise’s dark hair and pale skin; the dark green walls and plants suggest a rather heavy and formal interior decorated in the Second Empire style.
According to art historian Colin B. Bailey, “In genre painting of the 1860s and 1870s, such richly dressed young women were generally assumed to be kept women—the lorette, or high-class courtesan, was a social type created during the Second Empire—and the erotic Symbolism of the parrot and the gilded bird cage would have been obvious. . . . Yet Renoir’s presentation of this lascivious subject is actually rather well-mannered. He avoids anecdote and innuendo, refuses to pander to the prurient beholder, and in doing so acknowledges his debt to Manet.”¹
The subject of a woman holding a parrot appears in works from the 1860s by Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, and Edouard Manet. The formal, static composition and the representation of spatial depth and traditional modeling in Renoir’s painting are consistent with his pictures from the late 1860s and early 1870s. Woman with Parrot clearly predates Renoir’s Impressionist style and does not yet reflect the high-keyed tonality, shimmering patterns of light and spontaneity of mood that would characterize his later work.
1. Colin B. Bailey, catalogue essay on Woman with Parrot, in Matthew Drutt, ed., Thannhauser: The Thannhauser Collection of the Guggenheim Museum (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2001), p. 207.