This monumental portrait is of Jeanne Samary (1857— 1890) a prominent Comedie Francaise actress known for her roles as sen ants and soubrettes in Molieres plays. The portrait was painted for the 1879 Salon, where it was displayed together with another of Renoir's paintings — Portrait of Madame Charpentier and Her Children (Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York. Jeanne Samary is depicted in the dress she wore while visiting the Charpentiers, where it is likely that the painter met her. The portrait did not bring Renoir the success he had hoped for in the 1879 Salon largely because it was poorly displayed in the dark near the ceiling. Huysmans, in his survey of the Salon exhibition, maliciously suggested that the organizers display the paintings on the ceiling. In addition, without the painters knowledge and immediately before the Salon opening, the painting was mistakenly covered with a thick layer of varnish. The varnish layer was removed in the 1960s by a Hermitage expert.
According to the painters son Jean, the parents of the actress (who were Renoir's neighbors) admired Renoir's work. One day they asked him to paint their daughter if he needed a model. The work was painted in a studio on the Rue Saint-Georges, and Renoir very much enjoyed doing this portrait. It is said that the artist was so eager to start painting that he sometimes forgot to say "Hello" to his model. Later in his life, the painter said about the actres, who died at an early age: "What a charming girl! What skin! It looks as if it were illuminated from inside."
Renoir's best pictures are those in which he knew his model intimately and painted her on more than one occasion. The Hermitage painting is an example, for it was the fifth portrait by Renoir of the actress. The first four date from 1877: two round medallions and two important paintings that rank among Renoir's outstanding portraits—one in the Pushkin Museum. Renoir again painted a small portrait of Jeanne Samary, in all probability just prior to starting the large canvas in the Hermitage collection (Switzerland, private collection, Daulte. no. 277)
Signed and dated, bottom left: Renoir. 78
Hermitage Museum, inv. no. 9003
1879 Durand-Ruel Gallery(bought from the artist for 1.500 bancs); Prince Polignac collection, Paris;
1897 Durand-Ruel Gallery again (bought from Prince Polignac for 4.000 francs);
1898 de la Salle collection, Paris: Bemheim-Jeune Gallery, Paris: M. Morozov collection, Moscow;
1910 Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow (gift of Morozov's widow);
1925 Museum of Modern Western Art, Moscow;
since 1948 Hermitage, Leningrad.