Look at the painting and find a figure who interests you — then delve into the reading to identify them, or let our guide help you. It’s delightful detective work
Bal du Moulin de la Galette was painted by Pierre-August Renoir in 1876. It is one of the great impressionist masterpieces. It’s an extraordinary depiction of something very ordinary indeed: a typical Sunday afternoon at Moulin de la Galette in the Montmarte district in Paris. It’s an impressionistic snapshot of daily life, with all the richness of form, fluidity of brush stroke and dappled light that one expects from Renoir.
The painting is one of France’s national treasures and very rarely leaves its home, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. In 1879 Edmond Renoir, the artist’s younger brother, gave the following description of how the painting came to be: “He took up residence there for half a year, became acquainted with the little world of the place and its particular life that no models would have conveyed and, having got into the atmosphere of that popular little restaurant, he depicted with amazing enthusiasm the unrestrained hurly-burly that prevailed there.”
However, the scene does in fact contain a number of Renoir’s friends too. His biographer, Georges Rivière, has identified some of them. At the compositional centre of the painting there is a striking pair: Margot Legrand and a tall, immaculate gentleman in a top-hat — this was the Cuban painter, Don Pedro Vidal de Solares y Cardenas (some name!). Margot was a frequent model for Renoir and a bit mad; the well-bred Don was a bit stiff. The story told by their figures is absolutely typical of Renoir’s style. You will find such stories in every corner of this painting.
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