Friday, March 28, 2014

Impressionism (pt. 13)

His most famous painting is Le Moulin de la Galette.  Here is the quintessential image of the observer of Modern life.  It shows a group of young people on an outdoor dance hall in Paris in the afternoon.  We have to see this as the new face of art in the Modern Age.  No longer focusing on subjects from the Classical past, this work of art is all about depicting the contemporary world.  As Baudelaire had expressed, the painter of Modern life would have to now turn his focus to the crowds, the metropolitan social circles, to rummage for whatever humanity and organic truth was left in the increasingly mechanized world of Industrialism.  (Art has always been against "the Machine").  For Renoir to choose this as the subject for his big canvas painting is a statement of shifting core emphasis.  Truth needs to now be found within the masses and the common everyday occurrences of urban life: this is the focus of Modernism, and Impressionism follows the tenants of Modernism.  In some ways, then, Impressionism is the culminating fulfillment of Modernist art theory.
It's an everyday subject of an enjoyable summer day in Paris, and the realism with which Renoir paints the scene makes us feel like we are there, amid the crowd, just walking by.  It's a happy painting of a vibrant social event, full of energy and liveliness as parties (at least, good parties) always are.  He has painted it with soft hues to demonstrate the scene's cheerful levity.  Blues and violets substitute blacks and greys.  Smooth, slick surfaces are richly textured with many short brushstrokes, and solid forms lose some of their solidity.  Blurred edges are put in place of hard, precise outlines.  These details are also missing because Renoir only includes within the painting what can be taken in with a single glance.  A party like this, especially a dance party, is a fast-moving scene; but this painting is so effervescently abundant in color and subjects that the canvas itself almost feels active, no?  Through its Impressionistic approach it captures all the instantaneous changeability of such a scene.  The painting features bright colors in dabs and dashes, blended together in lively commotion.  There is no center of the painting; our eye is made to glance here and there all across the canvas as one really would look at such a bustling scene.  And our gaze reaches far back into the distance as we see scores of more people in the background, dancing and moving energetically about.  Even the sunlight on this scene is lively, coming in through the overhead trees in patches of light.  Figures are in and out of shade; the sun's light is speckled throughout the painting in inconsistent pockets.  There is so much going on in this painting, but Renoir's brushstrokes have captured it all.

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