Dance at Bougival
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841-1919
181.9 x 98.1 cm (71 5/8 x 38 5/8 in.)
Oil on canvas
Type, sub-type: Genre- Exterior
On view in the: Sidney and Esther Rabb Gallery (European Art 1870-1900)
The open-air cafés of suburban Bougival, on the Seine outside Paris, were popular recreation spots for city dwellers, including the Impressionist painters. Renoir, who was primarily a figure painter, uses intense color and lush brushwork to heighten the sense of pleasure conveyed by the whirling couple who dominate the composition. The woman's face, framed by her red bonnet, is the focus of attention, both ours and her companion's.
The dominant contrast of this painting is focusing on a central pattern of blue, red, and yellow upon your first glance. The dancing couple seems to be the primary focal point, and social conversation seems to follow close behind them. A circular shape is happening throughout, beginning from the woman’s red bonnet, onto her face, towards the man’s yellow fedora, down to the floor focusing on the woman’s flowing ruffles at the bottom of her dress, onto the ground to focus on the distinct purple lilac flower. It looks as though the man is completely enticed by the woman, only concentrating on her. Yet, the woman seems to be less than interested in returning such a look, and instead appears to be thinking about something completely unrelated to the present moment. Meanwhile, the background visual does not have as clear of a focus, but allows onlookers to believe that they are in a lively place with much happiness and conversation occurring. The scenery washes away in the distance, but still is present enough to allow the onlooker to depict the setting. It could be quite possible that Renoir is trying to place us within the image, possibly watching the couple dance while sitting at a table in front of them amongst the crowd.
In relation to Scott McCloud’s “picture plane” has simple complexity to it. Upon your first glance it is self-explanatory as to what is going on. Yet, looking further into the painting you are focused on the woman’s facial expression for she is distracted from what seems to be a pleasant dance. She has drawn your eye in so much that one forgets about what else is happening behind or beside her. She has completely taken over the portrait with her diverted eyes. The painting itself could be very realistic, for it is at a café just outside of Paris during the late 1800’s. The woman and man are both dressed appropriately for the times, and it seems to be subjective towards the audience. This painting is quite universal because of the dancing and expression between the two individuals. Overall the caption of the woman’s porcelain face with such an inattentive gaze makes this painting more complex than one would have observed from just a single glance.