Fashion and Illusion in Renoir's 'La Loge'

Explore Renoir's delicate brushwork in this painting of modern life.

La Loge (Theatre box)The Courtauld Institute of Art

Exhibited in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, this painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir depicts a couple in fancy evening clothes, sitting in the 'loge', or a theatre box, of a smart Parisian theatre or opera house.

Unconventional to painting at that time, Renoir presents a tightly cropped composition, capturing this scene of modern life through a series of agile brushwork.

The sitter, known as Nini Lopez, wears an overgrown black and white dress in a demi-toilette style, following the fashion trends of the 1870s.

Her dress, delicately rendered, consists of a black ruche tulle and sleeve ruffles made of silk lace.

Her hair is pinned up with pink flowers, described masterfully using several dashes of pink brush swirls.

Nini was often described as an 'illusion'. Enigmatic, she is depicted with porcelain-like skin yet also with heavy make-up and a bright lipstick. She has a pleasant disposition yet presents an empty gaze. She wears several strings of pearls, decorating her pale neck.

She also wears white gloves painted in shades of a reflective light blue, paired with a gold bracelet.

As she lowers her opera glasses, she becomes the main figure of attention.

La Loge (Theatre box) La Loge (Theatre box) (1874) by Pierre-Auguste RenoirThe Courtauld Institute of Art

In La Loge, every brush stroke seems to play a part in the grander picture.

La Loge (Theatre box)The Courtauld Institute of Art

Here we see two flourishes of the brush. These two joyful little exclamations appear as if they have just jumped onto the canvas.

These quick, immediate brushstrokes provide the illusion of the fluffy fur of ermine, a type of weasel whose winter coat is white with a black tip to its tail. 

In the late 1800s, ermine was often used as a lining for cloaks or collars.

Nini wears the ermine as a stole - slipped off her shoulders, sitting between her and her companion.

Popular with royalty and the upper classes, wearing ermine to the opera would have carried regal associations.

La Loge (Theatre box) La Loge (Theatre box) (1874) by Pierre-Auguste RenoirThe Courtauld Institute of Art

La Loge pressed on a number of social concerns when it debuted.

To some, Nini was seen as a figure of elegance, as demonstrated through her detailed clothing. But to others she seemed vulgar, part of a new breed of fashion-obsessed young women.

La Loge (Theatre box)The Courtauld Institute of Art

With delightful twirls describing flowers and black exclamations describing fur, beyond its illusory brushwork this whole painting was, in a sense, an illusion. 

In real life, Renoir did not paint this from a scene in an auditorium, but it was set up in his studio. 

Want to learn more about the couple in La Loge? Watch Dr Barnaby Wright, the Daniel Katz Curator of Twentieth-Century Art and deputy head of the Courtauld Gallery investigate Renoir's La Loge.

In Detail: ‘La Loge’ by Pierre Auguste Renoir, From the collection of: The Courtauld Institute of Art
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, (1841- 1919) La Loge, 1874, The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © The Courtauld

La Loge (Theatre box) La Loge (Theatre box) (1874) by Pierre-Auguste RenoirThe Courtauld Institute of Art

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