Renoir – At The Moulin De La Galette

In this vibrant study of sunlight falling through leaves on a crowd of dancers, the impressionist movement reached one of its highest peaks. Later on (as in The Nymphs, in this room) Renoir developed an interest in solid modelling, non-realistic color and distortion which took him out of the class of pure impressionists. Here the interest in sunlight reflections still dominates, although it is enriched by a wealth of varied content, expressive and decorative, such as no other of the impressionists could achieve. The impressionist aim of representing outdoor light on colored objects is achieved with amazing brilliance. The flecks of summer sun-shine, falling through young green leaves, with here and there a larger splash of dazzling, clear light, have more of the actual radiance of spring than had ever been captured in paint before.

But the picture is far more than an imitation, or even an intensified expression of natural sunlight. Its harmony of colors, especially of blue, is an independent pictorial creation. All the blues of past art—those which fill the clear spaces of Piero della Francesca; those which Veronese and Velazquez use to cool the warmth of Titian’s reds; and those which Vermeer takes over in pure cobalt intensity from Chinese porcelain—all these and others are here, transformed by a new soft lightness. They stand out in vivid intensity against a pale rose dress or a bright yellow hat, or. blend with these hues in countless iridescent tints and filmy, Goya-like textures—faint lavender shadows and reflections on silk; a blue-green dress that changes in color like a black opal; violet and opal shadows in blond hair, and pale yellow-green spring foliage. All these rainbow colors are set in motion by the dancing flecks of sunlight, and by the lightly poised gestures of the young dancers.

Renoir was never more human, never less the specialist in abstract forms or more the young Parisian artist, than in this representation of a scene he knew and enjoyed, with frank interest in its subject-matter. In few of his other pictures are the figures so active; here all is lively merriment, dance and light conversation — the spirit of Watteau, with realism added to gaiety. Every figure is deftly set down in some distinctive attitude and facial expression, with a few casual touches. A hundred details are thus brought into reality, expressing the spirit of the scene as well as forming beautiful color-chords—the green glasses with orange drinks; the little girl with fine gold hair; the blase squint of the young man dancing at the left; everywhere smiles, coquetries and attentive listening. Each is made to live in itself and is blended into the concentrated essence of many remembered scenes from life.

As in some of Goya’s bullfight scenes, the effect of a large and bustling crowd is conveyed with relatively few individualized figures. The contrast between these and the vague streaks and smudges which indicate the rest is bridged over by forms intermediate in distinctness. These graded accents, along with skilled alternation of colors, lights and shadows, help to organize the scene in space with all appropriate clarity, in spite of the sketchiness and flickering sun-shine. There is no definite pattern of lines or masses. This makes for a certain diffuse fluidity; but the picture is unified by other factors: definite themes of color and light, and its own ethereal, quivering rhythm of motion.