The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
Like Caravaggio three centuries earlier (JAMA cover,
December 12, 2007), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) chose music and musicians as the subject of a major painting. The choice came naturally. Charles Gounod had once suggested to Renoir's parents that the boy would do well in a musical career. Renoir chose painting,
but during his entire life he loved music and was never without a piano. The choice of motif must also have had special significance for Renoir, for the painting would be his reply to an invitation from the French government to create a work for the national collection.
Renoir chose two of his favorite models (JAMA cover,
May 9, 1980), gave them a sheaf of music, placed them before his piano,
and bathed the scene in afternoon light. Ultimately Renoir would execute five versions of the motif, all around 1892 when he was in his early 50s. Some versions are more, some are less finished; some vary the position and extension of the brunette's arms. No stranger to often harsh criticism from the public and journalists, Renoir perhaps could not decide what he preferred—or what his critics would accept.
Southgate MT. Two Girls at the Piano. JAMA. 2007;298(23):2715. doi:10.1001/jama.298.23.2715