Renoir’s Dance in the Country (1883)

In the early 1880's Auguste Renoir visited Italy for one principal reason: to see the Raphael frecoes in the Vatican. He was greatly impressed and wrote home that he should have seen them before.1 On his return he painted some life-size canvasses of dancing couples in a new technique, with more precise contours and a simplified palette. It has long been assumed that these new pictures show Raphael's stylistic influence.2 This one, from 1883, is known as Dance in the Country and is said to feature a close friend with the future Mme. Aline Renoir.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Renoir, Dance in the Country (1883) Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

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Seven years later Renoir etched on paper a variation of the prior canvas. The new couple are less elegant though the woman is still "Aline". The man, however, whose indistinct features in the painting resemble a well-groomed version of Renoir now looks more like his 1876 Self-portrait at Harvard.3  

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Captions for image(s) above:

Renoir, Dance in the Country (1890) Etching on paper, 2nd plate.

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When in Rome Renoir was hugely impressed by Raphael's The Expulsion of Heliodorus.4 Most writers assume that the artist's interest was technical and decorative yet he noted in a letter that the Raphaels "were full of knowledge and wisdom".5 Even if knowledge can apply to craft, wisdom smacks of philosophy. He would have known that Raphael's compositions are an extended investigation on how to find wisdom (or God) inside one because he himself was composing with similar if more modern content, all still unknown to experts. He surely saw, as we will see, how Raphael formed an angel in The Expulsion  into an R (top) just as he did the same with the bow on the arm of La Gravida (bottom), both first revealed on EPPH.  

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Inverted detail and diagram of Raphael's Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple (1511) Vatican.
Bottom: Detail of Raphael's La Gravida (c.1507-8) Palazzo Pitti, Florence.

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Now, returning to the Renoirs, you can see how the French painter then turned the fabric on Aline's dress into an R (top left) and did the same with a bow in the etching, just like Raphael. His R, though, stands for both Renoir and Raphael as though the earlier artist was now lodged in Renoir's mind, the two together producing the new picture, one artist working through the other. Given that Renoir's picture is known be Raphael-inspired, it also demonstrates that I am not alone in seeing the R signs in Raphael's paintings as well. Renoir did too.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Diagrams of Renoir's Dance in the Country, in oils (L) and etching (R).
Bottom: Details of the images above without diagrams.

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One last detail for now is the hat in the lower corner (left). It is eye-shaped and, as a hat, would sit on the mind. Most tellingly, it is colored like Renoir's moustache (right) in ochre and umber. Note too how the red, white and blue of his collar is in Aline's dress. The re-appearance of these five colors is not coincidental but an intentional reference to how the entire scene takes place inside his mind. As always, these techniques are not unique to Renoir and Raphael because, among great masters, they are very common indeed.

More on these images by Renoir will follow soon.
 

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Renoir's Dance in the Country
R: Detail of Renoir's Self-portrait (c. 1875) Oil on canvas. Clark Institute of Art, Williamstown, MA

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Notes:

1. Barbara Erlich White, "Renoir's Trip to Italy", Art Bulletin 51, Dec. 1969, pp. 333-51

2. Commentary on Musée d'Orsay website, Renoir's City Dance - Country Dance (present on 2/2/2014).

3. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard College.

4. White, op. cit., p. 333

5. White, op. cit., p. 341

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 02 Feb 2014. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.