Renoir took an intermittent in sculpture, but it was allegedly a meeting with Maillol in 1907 which led him to take up modelling again at the end of his life.
In 1913, Ambroise Vollard, his official dealer, suggested he employ Richard Guino, a young sculptor studying under Maillol to assist him. Their collaboration lasted five years, with Renoir, crippled by rheumatism, dashing down sketches on paper, Guino modelling them under the direction of the master who waved or pointed a stick to express the necessary changes to the sculpture and Vollard producing the works in bronze.
Venus victrix, created between 1914 and 1916, illustrates the triumph of the goddess of love over her rivals, Minerva and Juno. She is holding the apple given to her by the shepherd Paris, the sole judge of the beauty contest, whilst uncovering herself in a gesture reminiscent of some of the many versions of the Birth of Venus. The style of classical antiquity echoes Renoir’s final phase. Like Maillol, Bourdelle or Picasso during the same period, he turned to Greco-Roman models in what came to be known as “return to the style”, combining realism and idealism. This is evident in the streamlined silhouette of Venus, her soft, measured movements, smooth surface and the curves of her body.
Venus victrix is a bather rather than a conquering Venus – like those to be found in Renoir’s paintings. They all celebrate the female body with the same ample forms and modestly lowered eyes. However, the three-dimensional medium of bronze in sculpture adds a new piquancy to a theme familiar to the old artist, imbuing it with an extremely sensual visual and tactile reality.
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