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Pierre-Auguste Renoir Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette
One of the masterpieces of early Impressionism and a seminal work of modern painting, Pierre-Auguste Renoir's 1876 Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette is a shimmering vision of permanence and energy that has captivated the imagination of millions since it was first shown at the Impressionist exhibition of 1877. Idiosyncratic in approach, theme, and form, Renoir's staggering brushwork is all the more impressive considering it was painted from life, compiled through countless studied sketched at the scene. As well as echoing across the one and half centuries since it's inception the joys of the then working-class distinct of Montmartre on a Sunday, Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette, is also a study of the intimate networks of friendship and the fluidity of movement and light. A remarkable blend of form and content, Renoir's unquestioning enthusiasm for his subjects resonates beyond the frame and eloquently captures the literal meeting point of artistic bohemia and weekend revelry.
Existing to this day, the windmill of the Moulin de la Galette is now a popular tourist hub with a pricey set menu, but in Renoir's day it was representative of the varied communities living in the area. What was then considered outside of Paris proper, the area was popular with artists who were drawn by the cheap rents, bustling nightlife, and varied landscape. Montmartre is now known as the urban home of Impressionism and as much many of the early proponents can be found in Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette. Painstakingly developed from many preparatory studies and sketches, this complex composition depicts multiple characters in motion. Among these, it is possible to recognize the writer Georges River, the painters Franc Lamy and Goeneutte seated in the foreground, with a number of artist's models joining Jeanne Estelle for a glass of grenadine. Among the dancers one can also make out the painters Cordey, Gervex and Pedro Vidal busy dancing with Margot and journalist Paul Lhote and Pierre-Eugène Lestringuez, a childhood friend of Renoir. They are the focal point around which the world turns. It is as if the axis of the earth is spun by these energetic dancers.
During his presentation at the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877, critics heaped scorn on Renoir for what they naively described as 'smudgy'. A number of critics even scoffed at the artist's choice of a working-class location as a setting. Yet, it was this epiphanic release from contemplation, work, boredom, and poverty into a world of hope, drunkenness, and abandonment that gives Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette it's power and resonance.
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