The portrait of La Parisienne "The Parisian Girl" (1874), also known as "The Blue Lady", by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), was exhibited at the first Impressionist exhibition in the same year, an event which provoked controversy, that later grew as the style persisted and spread in popularity in the later 1870's. During the month-long show, which opened on 15 April 1874 just prior to the annual Salon exhibition, the criticism received by Renoir was by no means unsympathetic.
The subject of the painting is Henriette Henriot, an actress at the Odéon Theatre in Paris. She is sporting an elaborate blue hat, which matches with her dress and gloves. The painting is not unlike the fashion plates in contemporary journals: there is no context, or exterior definitions of who she is; and as such she is someone delineated purely by her face and clothes. Renoir's use of a warm, flooding daylight, softly diffused over the figure, unifies the composition and reduces tonal contrasts to a minimum. Instead of lights and darks, warm and cool hues are used to model form, with the cream ground glowing through the thin transparent blues to stand as highlights. The paint layer is thin and varies between fine transparent layers and delicately rubbed or scumbled, opaque veils of colour. The stability of Renoir's painting method was confirmed by Signac's observations on the picture when he saw it in 1898. He said,
"The dress is blue, an intense and pure blue which, by contrast, makes the flesh yellow, and, by its reflection, green. The tricks of colour are admirably recorded. And it is simple, it is beautiful, and it is fresh. One would think that this picture painted 20 years ago had only left the studio today."
The Greatest Painting in Britain.
The painting is in the collection of the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. Along with the eventual winner The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up (1838) by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) it was entered into a BBC competition in 2005. A panel was asked to modify the shortlist so that not all were by the same artist or of the same period or theme - so La Parisienne may have missed out to A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet.