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Cocotte or Not?

La Loge

At its most straightforward, La Loge is a portrait of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s favorite model, Nini, and a sumptuous celebration of the culture, style, and up-to-the-moment fashion for which Paris was famous. Ah, but things are never so simple!

To the contemporary viewer, Nini looks every bit the grande dame, elegantly adorned in pearls and an ermine cloak. She holds little golden opera glasses in one appropriately gloved hand and a fan and lace-edged handkerchief in the other. The dress itself would have been exactly à la mode, a striped over-dress made for the opening night of a performance. A lovely pink flower accents her hairstyle, and another peeks out at the center of her bodice, drawing the eye to her fashionable décolletage, newly possible after advances in corset manufacturing.

But in fact, Nini was a girl from Montmartre, a model with the nickname of “gueule de raie,” which roughly translates to fish-face. And critics and onlookers saw right through her elegant façade when this painting was first exhibited at the First Impressionist Exhibition of 1874. They noticed her disheveled hair and bangs, and that while her dress was in fashion, it was a “demi-toilette” and did not match the formality of her male companion’s dress or tailcoat. Her face was also heavily powdered, even over done, some said. And while her ostentatious ensemble may have been appropriate for a married woman, for a young woman, it was unseemly.

To 19th-century audiences, Nini’s comportment indicated her status as a “cocotte,” or kept woman. But even her escort (who was modeled by Renoir’s brother Edmund) doesn’t seem particularly interested in her. Gazing through his over-sized opera glasses, he appears to be otherwise engaged, looking anywhere but where he is supposed to look. Perhaps someone new has caught his roving eye?

—Tricia Patterson, Marketing Coordinator

Image Credit. Pierre-Auguste Renoir. La Loge, 1874. The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London, P.1948.SC.338.