Updated: Apr 22
The impressionists came forward with a completely unique and pioneering way to paint a new world in the 19th century. This was characterized by the loose brushwork, the vivid color palettes, and the challenging of the traditional norms of practicing painting. But this was not just it, impressionist artists also introduced the world to another unprecedented style of painting; painting in the outdoors – getting the painting out of the studio and working on it in the sunlight!
‘en Plein air’ or ‘in open-air’ was where most of the impressionist artists worked, but Pierre- Auguste Renoir was one such artist who was very well known for his depiction of paintings set in the outdoors. And one of his most celebrated outdoor pieces is that of Bal du moulin de la Galette (Dance at the Moulin de la Galette). This painting showcases a dance hall set in the bustling outdoors in old Paris. It a huge painting that gives us a glimpse into the life and leisure of France’s Belle Epoque!
Here are a few facts that you might not know about this brilliant painting:
1) Origin of this painting
This mesmerizing oil painting piece is a staggering 52” X 69” wide and tall and was created in 1876. And this was a time when impressionism was very new and in its early stages. The first impressionism painting exhibition was held just 2 years prior however all the artists associated with this art form developed a unique art form as well as a justified approach to painting.
2) What does the painting?
Renoir was very well known for his gauzy brushwork and vivid use of color and he used it best in his favorite subject – people! This approach of his is very much evident in Bal du moulin de la Galette. The figures in this painting are all rendered in luminous brushstrokes and are dappled by the sunlight. On general inspection, we see all the characters clad in black clothes but upon a closer look, we see that each of these darker hues is made up of a kaleidoscopic collection of colors. “I've been 40 years discovering that the queen of all colors was black,” he famously explained.
3) Magicaluse of the color black in a different version of Bal de moulin de la Galette
This second version made in a smaller size of 30” X 44” features even looser brushwork that easily enables the viewers to identify these kaleidoscopic features of various colors that look a black but are actually not. Both of these paintings might not be identical, but are similar in terms of its iconography!
4) Who’s who?
Each and every person in Bal du moulin de la Galette are real-life people. They are Renori’s contemporaries from real life. Some of these renowned figures are Jeanne Samary; a French actress and Renoir’s model, Estelle Samary, Jeanne’s sister. Pierre – Franc Lamy; a French expressionist painter, Georges Riviere; an art critic and Don Pedro Vidal De Solares Y Cardenas; a Cuban painter amongst others.
5) ‘guinguette’ type atmosphere
‘Guinguette’ is a French term for an open-air café/bar with guaranteed fine wine and live music. And Auguste Renoir rented a similar small atelier on Rue Cortot in Montmarte. – and he used to move his easel from his studio to a spot in Moulin de la Galette. This is where he got his inspiration for this painting. The air in the painting is that of carefree cheerfulness which again comes under guinguette!
Renoir’s friend and fellow artist Gustave Caillebotte acquired this painting in 1879. And it remained in his collection till his death in 1894. It was then kept in Musee de Luxembourg till 1929, moving for 57 years to the Louvre in Paris until finding a permanent home in the Musee de Orsay.
It is one of those essential paintings celebrated for its distinctive style and monumental scale and also for its role as a “sign of Renoir’s artistic ambition”. And it is today considered a masterpiece of the Impressionist movement.
7) A couple among the dancers
A dancing couple on the left of this masterpiece seems to be suspended mid-dance, while taking a moment to admire the painter, thus the spectator. And this woman’s black petticoat just adds a warm contrast to the pale pink dress she is wearing, which further takes all eyes to her. She is none other than Margot, Auguste Renoir’s lover; and with her is the Cuban painter Pedro Vidal of Solares!
8) Playof lights
Renoir amazingly plays with light in this masterpiece. He makes it look like the light is appearing from the trees. And he does the same by adding patches and a touch of white paint. The same can be seen on the hair of the girl in the foreground and on the dancing couple and this just evokes a feeling of movement and brings unity to the whole scene!
9) Celebration the youth
This painting celebrates the triumph of the youth. Every woman is radiantly beautiful and every male is just dashing and debonair. Although Renoir became famous for being the painter of the nude, he covered these human figures with unbelievable virtuosity. He even animated each figure in an array of poses and activities – some bold, some relaxed, eager, flirtatious, and some just graceful and natural!
This is one of Renoir’s most ambitious pieces yet he didn’t regard it as his best painting. This painting, despite its crowding and turbulence, reveals a studied organization. The triangle foreground in the front is related through the silhouette and color through which it became a part of the vertical unit providing stability to the canvas. And on the other side, on the other hand, provides space to create a mesmerizing effect of sunlight and shadow through sharp color contrasts. And this is just how Renoir repeats the playfulness in the whole background again and again!
A beautiful amalgamation of color that develops into an independent sub-theme with its reds, blues, greens, and blacks, with the light that flickers just perfectly across the scene forms an amazing compositional analysis. And this is what keeps the painting intriguing making it one of the biggest achievements in the art of painting.