Friday, October 14, 2011

Renoir's Dance in the Country Sketch

Today, another pretty drawing by Renoir, this, a study for his later painting, Dance in the Country, painted in 1883 and currently at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.   The painting was commissioned a year earlier by wealthy merchant Paul Durand-Ruel; it is a sister picture to Renoir’s Dance in the City, painted that same year.
The male figure was modeled by Paul Lothe, Renoir’s friend, and the woman is Aline Charigot, who later became Madame Renoir.  The finished painting is rather large -- both figures are life-size – and features Renoir’s characteristic limpid coloration.
But let’s look for a moment at the drawing.  That this is a quick study (executed in brown wash and watercolor with a brush over a pencil sketch) is fairly clear.  Lothe’s arm around Charigot is clearly a little too long above the elbow, and Renoir seems a tad uncertain as to where on the man’s shoulder to place the lady’s hand.  Moreover, Charigot looks more pained than pleasured, a misstep Renoir corrected in the final painting (see below).  Charigot, a simple country girl somewhat in awe of her celebrated husband, looks at us from the finished painting with an open-mouthed grin, teeth showing, truly happy.  It took Renoir a few studies (there is an additional pencil study for the drawing in the Honolulu Academy of Arts) before he captured her mix of happiness and abandon.
What Renoir does do well here is convey the sense of movement; this is not two people standing still in the simulacrum of dance, but a man and a woman really moving.  And Renoir, always colorist before draughtsman, cannot help but apply blue wash to the man’s pants and details of her dress – color was to the Impressionists what line was to the classicists.
While it is always interesting to look at a painting’s preparatory drawings, it is usually the finished work that is the most arresting.  However, I will chance a sacrilege at the Impressionist alter and opine that I think the drawing – a sketch, really – is somehow more beguiling than the finished work.  The drawing has an immediacy and intimacy that the painting lacks, and the line is not obscured by Renoir’s sometimes ‘fuzzy’ brushwork.
Before we leave Renoir, here’s a great story the artist told about how he acquired a Paul Cézanne watercolor (quoted from Renoir, an Intimate Record, by A. Vollard):
Coming back from Italy, I went to the Midi.  I looked up Cézanne and proposed that we should go to Estaque together to paint.
“Oh, don’t go there!” cried Cézanne, who had just come back.  “Estaque is done for!  They’ve put up parapets.  I can’t bear it!”
I went just the same, a little saddened by the thought of how they must have spoiled it; but I was encouraged when I found the same old Estaque, and if Cézanne had not told me, I would never have noticed any change.  His parapets were just a few stones one on top of another.
It was on this trip that I brought back a magnificent water-colour of Bathers by Cézanne, the one you see there on the wall.  The day I found it, I was with my friend Lauth.  He had been suddenly taken with a violent diarrhea.
“Do you see any good leaves around?  No, I don’t want pine-needles.”
“No, but here’s some paper,” I replied, picking up a stray piece at my feet.  It was one of the finest of Cézanne’s water-colours; he had thrown it away among the rocks after having slaved over it for twenty sittings.

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