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Dance at le Moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Auguste Renoir - Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette - Musée d'Orsay

Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

“Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette” is also known as “Bal du Moulin de la Galette” and is one of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s most important works. The Moulin de la Galette was an outdoor dancehall and café, frequented by many of Renoir’s friends. Renoir was a regular, and he enjoyed the atmosphere. Named after one of the three windmills in the Montmartre neighbourhood, it held open-air dances every Sunday, and these would start in the early afternoon and carry on until midnight.

The painting depicts a famous Parisian lifestyle during a typical Sunday afternoon in the late 1870s, when working-class Parisians would dress up and spend time dancing, drinking and eating into the evening. It is one of the most famous Impressionist paintings and a dazzling example of Renoir’s talent for capturing dappled light produced when sunlight is filtered through the leaves of trees. It is a masterpiece demonstrating his innovative style of capturing a moving crowd with vibrant and brightly coloured brushstrokes.

The poet Stephane Mallarme wrote about this painting as follows:

“The strong daylight is filtered through the greenery, setting the blonde hair and pink cheeks of the girls aglow and making their ribbons sparkle. The joyful light fills every corner of the canvas, and even the shadows reflect it. The whole painting shimmers like a rainbow ……. the shreds of yellow, blue and pink drift away in the breeze like so many butterflies.”

Renoir left us a rich legacy of masterpieces. “Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette” is housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and is one of Impressionism’s most celebrated masterpieces. His style changes during his long life and a time of significant social change. Renoir’s paintings can be found in Museums across the world.

Moulin de la Galette

The Moulin de la Galette is a windmill and associated businesses situated near the top of the district of Montmartre in Paris. Since the 17th century, the windmill has been known for more than just its milling capabilities. Nineteenth-century owners and millers, the Debray family, made brown bread and galette, a pastry which became popular and thus the name of the windmill and its businesses. The businesses included a popular drinking establishment and restaurant. In the 19th century, Le Moulin de la Galette represented diversion for Parisians seeking entertainment, a glass of wine and bread made from flour ground by the windmill. Artists, such as Renoir, van Gogh, and Pissarro have immortalised Le Moulin de la Galette; likely the most notable was this Renoir’s festive painting.

The windmill Moulin de la Galette was built in 1622. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814, during the siege of Paris, three family members lost their lives defending the windmill against Cossacks; the miller was killed and nailed to the wings of the windmill. During the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Montmartre was attacked by 20,000 Prussian soldiers. A mass grave for those killed during the siege was made just steps away from the Moulin de la Galette.

The current name Moulin de la Galette is based upon galette, the small brown bread that the millers, who owned the mill in the 19th century, made and sold with a glass of milk. The tasty bread became so popular that it later became the name of the windmill. In 1830, they replaced milk with wine, and the windmill became a cabaret. Parisians made their way to Montmartre to enjoy the pleasures of the countryside with a glass of wine, freshly baked bread and views of Paris and the Seine. In 1833, one of the owners decided to open an area for dancing, patrons were attracted to the dancing hall, and it became a considerable success.

An association Friends of Old Montmartre saved it from destruction in 1915. In 1924, its owner moved the windmill to the corner of Girardon and Lepic streets. Today it is restored but is not running.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, commonly known as Auguste Renoir, was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. As one who celebrated beauty and especially feminine sensuality, Renoir’s paintings are notable for their vibrant light and saturated colour, most often focusing on people in intimate and candid compositions. In characteristic Impressionist style, Renoir suggested the details of a scene through freely brushed touches of colour, so that his figures softly fuse with their surroundings.

At the age of 51, Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis which in his last twenty years of his life severely limited his mobility. He developed progressive deformities in his hands and ankylosis of his right shoulder, requiring him to change his painting technique. Renoir remained positive and passionate about his art and did not let his condition affect his painting or diminish the beauty that he saw around him. In the advanced stages of his arthritis, he required an assistant to place his paintbrush in his hand. His hands were also wrapped with bandages to prevent skin irritation. Renoir applied a variety of effective coping strategies and used his ingenuity to come up with different ways to continue painting even as his arthritis weakened him.

Musée d’Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay is a museum in Paris, France, which is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.

The Musée d’Orsay has 81 paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Explore the Musée d’Orsay

Explore Renoir

Reflections

  • Has Renoir captured the joyful atmosphere of an 1870s Parisian dance garden?
  • Is this the most joyful composition among Renoir’s works?
  • “The joyful light fills every corner of the canvas, and even the shadows reflect it.”

Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

  • Title:                         Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette
  • Artist:                       Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  • Year:                         1876
  • Style:                        Impressionist
  • Type:                        Oil paint on canvas
  • Dimensions:            131 cm × 175 cm (52 in × 69 in)
  • Museum:                 Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

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“The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
– Auguste Renoir

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Photo Credit: Pierre-Auguste Renoir [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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