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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Renoir: Moulin De la Galette

Renoir is the only great painter who never painted a sad painting. Moulin De la Galette is the greatest example of his radiant outlook. It is an anthem to youth and happiness, expressed in the pure colours and light palette of the Impressionists. 
Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette1876.
Paris, Musée d'Orsay
Renoir captures a party at a popular Montmartre locale, in the greatest ever painting en plein-air.

Auguste Renoir was born in 1841 in Limoges, to a tailor father and factory worker mother. He was still a young child when his family moved to Paris. He trained as a craftsman, decorating first porcelain, then fans and curtains. In 1862 he had enough money to pay for painting lessons from Charles Gleyre at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he met Monet, Sisley, and Bazille. Along with them, he admired the masters of the previous generations, particularly Corbet, Corot, ad the landscape artists of the Barbizon school. He went with his companions to paint outdoors, en plein-air, in Fontainebleau forest. In Paris he frequented the Cafe Guerbois, where young artists congregated around Manet and the writer Zola. Shunning the official Salon culture, Renoir, Monet, Sisley, Degas, Pissaro, and Bazille founded Impressionism. In 1874 Renoir exhibited seven works at the first Impressionist exhibition, held by photographer Nadar.

In the early 1870s, the Moulin de la Galette was a popular Montmartre locale where people went to open-air evening dances. The dance floor was beneath a large shed, with a plinth for the orchestra, set in a large tree-filled garden, where workers, students and young artists met on weekends.

In his Moulin de la Galette, purchased immediately by Renoir's fellow painter and friend Caillebotte, the artist is studying the quality of light and the dynamic depiction of a scene of modern life, following the orientation and experimentations of his companions. Shown at the third Impressionist exhibition, in Rue Le Pelettier in 1877, the painting was enthusiastically received by Georges Riviere, who wrote in the L'Impressionniste review "This is a page of history, a valuable monument to Paris life." 

Existential happiness - almost an ode to joy and youth - and a "sketched" quality to the painting, are the first impact of the work. Only a few of the faces in the foreground are handled with the virtuosity of portraiture; in the rest of the painting - and this is one of Renoir's innovations - space is resolved in the inebriating splendor of the colours and light penetrating from above, blending the bodies and the surrounding environment.
A number of Renoir friends posed for the work. The women are the young model Estelle, in the striped dress, and her sister, actress Jeanne Samary, who is standing next to her. Sitting around the table are painters and intellectuals, but they are not easily identified with any precision. Among the dancers, behind and to the left, are the couple Marguerite Legrand, known as "Margot",  and Pedro Vidalde Solares y Cardenas, a painter of Spanish origin, wearing a black felt hat.
Franc-Lamy, one day, found a preparatory sketch in my atelier for Moulin de la Gallete. "You really ought to paint that picture," he told me. It was very complex: finding the models, a garden...I had the good fortune to receive a well-paid commission: a portrait of a lady and her two daughters, for 1200 francs. I rented a house with a garden in Montmartre for one hundred francs a month...and it was there that I pained Moulin de la Galette..."
In the garden at his Rue Cortot studio Renoir painted not only his famous canvas, but other renowned large format works such as The Pergola, Nude in Sunlight, The Swing, and Claude Monet Painting in his Garden.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French 1841-1919). Claude Monet painting in his Garden at Argenteuil, about 1873.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Nude in the Sunlight
Musée de Louvre, Paris, France

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
The Swing, 1876

Paris, Musée d'Orsay

In order to grasp the lighting and the pose of the characters, the artist painted an initial version of the work on site. Riviere and other friends, who later posed for the painting, helped him to carry the large canvas from his studio to the big outdoor dance hall. In the plain-air painting he completely defined both the composition and the color scheme. Back in his studio he put the finishing touches to the work. 

From 1875-6, thought still mixing colors on his palette, Renoir began applying pure paint directly onto the canvas, as little luminous dabs which could define a shape by forming a homogeneous tone on the retina of the beholder, standing at a certain distance from the painting. This technique - characteristic of the painting of the early Impressionists, and used as a rule by the painters of the neo -impressionist movement too - allows the artist, even on large canvases, to render the effects of light as spots of color which casually fall on bodies, faces, clothing. These spots of light, which are evident on the jacket of the foreground figure whose back is turned to us, are a cypher of Renoir's style in works of this period. 
Elsewhere, particularly in the background of the painting, the light fragments into a myriad of reflecting particles, in a kaleidoscopic effect whose texture borders on the of matter. This fading effect is countered by the blobs of color. Light and dark chromatic areas alternate in a sinuous rhythmic play which adds depth to the painting and creates an illusion of space. 
Despite the apparent freedom and spontaneity of the scene, captured as in a snapshot, the guiding principles with which the artist constructs and develops his composition bring together the different groups and the various dancing couples. Three diagonals originate in the bottom left-hand corner, diverging to the closer-than-expected backdrop of the painting. It is extraordinary how, in a depiction of such bold articulation, Renoir expresses himself with such felicitousness, and with such a light touch: the space is overcrowded, the foreground is almost completely absent, and his figures are framed in a fashion which recalls the practice of photography. Moreover, the scene is constrained within a limited space by the lack of sky and the absence of a perspective effect, deadening the space beyond the backdrop. Despite all this, the picture irresistibly conveys an air of festivity. 
To fully understand the character of the painting, one must consider the contemporaneous development of photography. Many 19th century painters were deeply conditioned in their choice of subject by this young art; Moulin de la Galette, however, takes this process a step further. Renoir is attempting to go beyond the static nature of poses by experimenting with modulations of light and movement. It is perhaps no coincidence that his son Jean became an accomplished film director. 

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