Renoir’s Dance paintings of 1883. I thought, for February, I would have three “Paintings of the Month”. My inspiration is Pierre Auguste Renoir, an artist I regularly turn to and his ‘dance’ paintings. My first choice is Dance at Bougival. If there was a painting that evokes great memories for me this is it. Not only for its content but our connection with it.
Renoir was suffering a well documented crisis of identity around this time. A pioneer of the impressionist movement he found himself drawn back to the Louvre and Florence to study the more classical ideas of Raphael and Ingres. Umbrellas, which I wrote about in 2019, is a great example of his two styles together; Impressionism and Ingres-esque.
Dance at Bougival is one of three life size figurative paintings of a dancing couple the artist produced in the Spring of 1883. It represents a very spontaneous scene of a rural couple enjoying a warm summers evening dance outdoors. The village of Bougival is about 15 miles outside Paris. Look for the expressions of the two dancers – what are they each thinking? Look also for the very clever blurring of warm and cool colours and the discarded cigarette ends stamped out on the floor. There is speculation of whom the dancers are, widely assumed to be the model/artist, Suzanne Valadon, and Renoir’s friend, Paul Lohte.
Boston. Our connection with the painting is a story of its own. Having admired the other two ‘dance’ paintings in Musée D’Orsay we were keen to see the Dance at Bougival, which is part of the collection in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The opportunity arose in 2016 on the return trip from our daughter-in-laws family in New Zealand via USA. The painting, however, was not on display, being prepared for an exhibition in Tokyo. By delicate negotiations with the Director , playing our ‘ace’, my University of Oxford student card, we were treated to a rare trip to the underground vaults and a personal private viewing of this great favourite – unforgettable.
Dance at Bougival is the first of three Renoir paintings I will look at in February. The others are Dance in the Country and Dance in the City. All have that intense social and emotional attachment that Renoir captures.