Renoir’s Dance at the Moulin de la Galette is one of those chocolate box paintings that is sometimes easy to ignore. This masterpiece of French Impressionism, however, is my choice for October and a little reminder of the fun of large gatherings enjoying flirting and dancing.
George’s Rivière, Renoir’s friend and biographer, claimed the painting was completed outdoors on the spot and that the artist took the canvas and easel there everyday, this does seem unlikely given the size of the painting (52” x 69”). More probably, he made oil sketches on site and completed the final work in the studio.
There are wonderful little moments in the painting like the freedom of the girl in the pink dress, Renoir’s partner Marguéite Legrand, dancing with the dandy of the day, the intense conversations of the group in the foreground, and the numerous flirtatious meetings around the scene. The painting catches the raucous and bohemian atmosphere of these open air dances at Montmartre in the late nineteenth century.
The Bal de la Gallette was first shown at the 3rd Impressionist exhibition in 1877 and received a mixed reception of praise and criticism. Praise for the play of dappled light in the early evening but criticism at the same time for the way the patches of colour looked like ‘patches of purple grease spread on the revellers clothes!” Renoir was affected by the criticism and started to distance himself from the Impressionists, returning to the Louvre to study Raphael and more classical form, as in his Umbrellas study in The National Gallery.
Photography, with its new ideas are seen in Renoir’s painting with the truncated edges and the feeling of a snap shot catching the single moment. It is a fun painting and while its popularity has diminished its seriousness as art over the years, but it is still to be seen as one of Renoir’s many masterpieces. I hope you enjoy and look forward to a return of social companionship again.