Renoir’s Dance At The Moulin De La Galette (Bal Du Moulin De La Galette) is an impressionist masterpiece. The idea for this painting came to Renoir in 1876. In the late 19th century people would often gather near the windmill (or moulin), to dance, drink and eat the galettes which were produced at the mill. Galettes are small round crusted cakes which can have sweet or savoury fillings.
Renoir set up a studio in an abandoned cottage in the Rue Cortot, and he completed other works here, including La Balancoire (The Swing). The building still exists now, as the Musée de Montmartre.
In his memoirs, Renoir’s friend Georges Rivière reveals the identities of several subjects of the painting. One of his favourite models was a young actress Jeanne Samary. However, despite his best efforts, Renoir failed to persuade her to be the principal for this piece (there was a straw with a red ribbon on offer). She gave up the principal position to her sister Estelle, although Jeanne still features in the painting. It’s thought that Jeanne turned down the principal model position because she was involved in an affair with a regular at the Moulin de la Galette at the time. A year later she was in a relationship with Renoir.
Other models for the painting include screenwriter Eugène Pierre Lestringuez, fellow artists Norbert Goeneutte, who appeared with Jeanne Samary in La balançoire), Pierre-Franc Lamy, Henri Gervex and Rivière himself. The Cuban painter Don Pedro Vidal de Solares y Cardenas is pictured dancing with model Marguerite Legrand, who died of typhoid just two years later. Renoir paid both for her treatment and her funeral, nursing her until the end.
There’s a little mystery when it comes to this work, as there are actually two Dance At The Moulin De La Galettes. I’ve pictured the larger of the two, but they are almost identical. Painting was challenging for this piece, as it was done on the spot, constantly fighting the wind for possession of the canvas. This leads some to think that it was the larger of the two paintings was painted in situ, and the smaller one was a copy, as the smaller one wouldn’t be troubled by the wind. The smaller one has looser brush strokes and generally looks like it was painted quicker though, leading others to think that it is the original, and the larger was the copy. Personally I’d go with the smaller one being the original. A (slightly) quicker sketch on site to get the information down, leaving him free to finish the larger version at his leisure. The smaller version also isn’t that small, (78 × 114 cm as opposed to 131 x 175 cm), easily big enough to catch the wind.
Renoir’s Dance At The Moulin De La Galette can currently be seen at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France.
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