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Dance at Bougival

Pierre-Auguste Renoir • Painting, 1883, 181.9×98.1 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Genre scene
Style of art: Impressionism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1883
Size: 181.9×98.1 cm
Artwork in selections: 93 selections
Exhibitions history

Description of the artwork «Dance at Bougival»

1883 was a successful year for Pierre-Auguste Renoir: he received a serious commission from the famous collector and patron of the Impressionists Paul Durand-Ruel, which caused the “Dance at Bougival” to appear. The customer wished to own three paintings, that would be united by a common theme: pair dance.
Renoir enthusiastically set to work. A few years earlier, he painted a picture with many couples dancing in an open space. This time, the artist decided to reduce the number of dancers to two people: on all three canvases we can see the same couple, but the environment around the dancers is different. On one canvas, the couple is dancing in the city, on the second — in the suburbs, and on the third — in the village.
Auguste Renoir’s “Dance at Bougival” painting takes the viewer to the Paris outskirts, which was very popular at that time among Parisians and the city visitors. People came there to sit with friends in a cosy café, breathe fresh air under the shade of trees, and make new acquaintances. Bougival, with its incredibly beautiful landscapes, attracted many painters, including the Impressionists.

The canvas depicts a dancing couple: a young girl and a middle-aged man. The girl’s outfit emphasizes her beauty: a fashionable fitted pale pink dress wonderfully harmonizes with snow-white skin and a slight blush on her cheeks. Numerous ruffles of the skirt, cascading down in a lush fall, tossed up in motion and revealed an elegant shoe. On her top, the dancing lady is wearing a stylish red hat, that is decorated with a bouquet of flowers with dark purple buds.

The girl’s partner wears a contrasting dark suit and smart boots that match the colour of the straw hat. His hat covers the dancer’s face from the audience: only his beard and moustache are visible. Art critics have no doubts about the woman who posed for Renoir, she was Suzanne Valadon, whereas the hidden face of the man gave rise to two versions. One of them says that the “Dance in Bougival” painting by Auguste Renoir depicts Alphonse Fournaise, the other supposes the man to be the artist’s friend Paul Lhôte.

From the position of the man’s head, one can assume that he is whispering something to his partner. The girl slightly turned away from the gentleman, her gaze is directed to the side and down, and it seems that she is embarrassed, but her hand, hugging the man around the neck, suggests otherwise. It is likely that she is looking at her boutonniere that broke off during a quick turn and fell to the ground, while her partner consoles her by promising to buy another one.

The “Dance in Bougival” painting by Auguste Renoir differs from the other two canvases in its special lightness and airiness. The dancing couple is depicted against the background of people sitting at the tables of an open summer café, but the viewer’s eyes hardly notice them. The faces of the minor subjects are indistinct, and the bright green foliage on the tree branches is blurred — this technique allowed the artist to convey the feeling of the dancing couple’s movement realistically. The whole stage is flooded with bright sunlight, which creates a festive atmosphere.
This canvas has another smaller version, which Renoir created especially for Suzanne Valadon. It almost completely repeats the original, but when drawing this version, the artist carefully painted the face of the young lady, so that there was no doubt that the picture showed Suzanne. Today this copy is owned by a private collector from the United States.

The original “Dance in Bougival” from the collection of Paul Durand-Ruel, a customer of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, ended up in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts: the painting was bought by the Museum in 1937 for $ 150,000. Two other canvases from this series are now in Paris at the Musée d'Orsay.