Dance at Bougival exemplifies Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s transition to his later, mature style which combined the influence of Impressionism with more classical elements. In this article, Singulart takes a look at the life of Renoir and discusses the Dance at Bougival in the context of Renoir’s style.
Who was Pierre-Auguste Renoir?
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was a French painter and founder of the Impressionist movement. He is particularly renowned for his explorations of female beauty and sensuality, continuing in the tradition of other artists such as Rubens and Watteau. He was born in Limoges, where his father worked as a tailor before the family moved to Paris in 1844 in search of a more prosperous life. The Renoir family home was located on Rue d’Argenteuil, in close proximity to the Louvre, thus from a young age, Renoir was exposed to art and discovered a natural talent for drawing. He was also a talented singer, however due to his family’s financial circumstances, he stopped singing lessons to become an apprentice in a porcelain factory, aged thirteen.
He was talented at his work, but not passionate and thus he decided to study to enter the Ecole des Beaux Arts. In 1862, he began studying under Charles Gleyre in Paris, where he met other artists including Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille and Claude Monet. Renoir began exhibiting at the Paris Salon in 1864 and sold his first painting in 1868. He was inspired by the style and subject of some of his modern contemporaries such as Camille Pissarro and Manet and hoped to forge a reputation as a portrait painter. His rise to recognition was perhaps hindered by the instability caused by the Franco-Prussian war. Alongside Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and several other artists, Renoir helped to set up the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and participated with six paintings. Between 1881 and 1882, he traveled extensively, studying many of the artists he admired, from Delacroix in Algeria to Titian in Florence.
In 1890 he married Aline Victorine Charigot, a dressmaker who had modelled for several of his paintings and with whom he already had a son, Pierre Renoir, born in 1885. In 1892, Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis and in 1907 he moved to Cagnes-sur-Mer near the mediterranean coast and continued to paint until his death, despite his movement being severely limited by the arthritis. In 1919, the last year of his life, he visited the Louvre to see his paintings hung alongside the other great masters of the history of art.
In his early works, Renoir incorporated many different influences from Delacroix’s colorism and Camille Corot’s use of light to the realism of Courbet and Manet’s works and Degas’ portrayal of movement. He was also greatly influenced by the plein air painting of Monet and developed this technique extensively in his own works during his Impressionist period. After 1890, his style transitioned again and he moved from Impressionism back to the Realism of his earlier works, influenced by the works of Renaissance masters that he studied during his travels. He also turned his focus from landscape painting to female nudes and domestic scenes. Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a prolific artist and painted several thousands of works during his lifetime.
Dance at Bougival: Impressionism meets Classicism
Dance at Bougival is a full length double portrait of two of Renoir’s friends, Suzanne Valadon and Paul L’hote. The couple are dancing in the French village of Bougival, outside of Paris, where many of the Impressionists went to paint. Dance at Bougival is considered one of the first examples of Renoir’s transition from Impressionism towards a more classical style, inspired by his studies of the great masters in the Louvre and throughout his travels across Europe. Dance at Bougival, exemplifies his later style, combining elements of Impressionism, in its subject matter and fluid brushstrokes, with a more classical format and composition.
This can be seen in its relation to his earlier painting, Dance at le Moulin de la Galette, as Dance at Bougival can be considered an expansion on the couple dancing to the left. Renoir continued to explore a popular Impressionist subject matter, that of the joy of everyday moments, however he enhanced it with a more classical approach. Instead of the open, panoramic composition of Dance at le Moulin de la Galette, in Dance at Bougival he takes a more elegant vertical composition, on a monumental scale of 181.9 x 98.1 cm, to focus on the figures dancing. His brushstrokes retain the influence of Impressionism, particularly in the fluidity of the three figures and the trees in the background which serves to contrast with the more defined main figures in the foreground.
His use of color also enhances this contrast, with the greens and blues of the background pushing the focus to the lighter, brighter colors of the main figures. The woman, to the left, wears a pink dress with red details and a red hat, decorated with fruit. The man wears a deep blue suit and a straw hat that was fashionable at the time. His face is mainly hidden by the hat, but he looks towards the female figure who seems caught up in the joys of the dance. Renoir was renowned for his figurative paintings, and more specifically for his depiction of female figures, which is clear in Dance at Bougival as the female figure is the focus of the composition.