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Video transcript

I think to us in the early 21st century this painting looks like quaint old Paris it does we see a horse and carriage we see a woman wearing a long Victorian dress with a bow on the back and a pretty hat strolling with her two children it really does look like a very quaint scene but to Renoir and to the people depicted on this Boulevard this would have been incredibly modern this was a brand new Boulevard the rebuilt Paris this was a new world this was as modern and as contemporary as you could get in the 1870s and it's modern not only in terms of what it's depicting but it's modern in terms of how its depicted this painting was made only one year after the first impressionist exhibition that term Impressionism had just been coined the idea of representing the city in a series of fleeting brushstrokes that seemed to catch the moment was a radically new idea and then why was one of a group of artists who were doing this who became known as the Impressionists who had as he said their first exhibition the year before so we might think about Monet or Camille Pissarro and des got all of them painting different aspects of this new sense of modern life in Paris Paris was at this moment being rebuilt from an old city with narrow winding streets to a city of wide boulevards flooded with light a planned city lined with shops and cafes and trees the city of Paris that we know and love today it was to be the new Imperial City under Napoleon the third and it wasn't just the architecture or the city planning that was being rebuilt in a sense French culture was being rebuilt it was just five years earlier the friends had been humiliated in their defeat against the Germans in the franco-prussian war and here we have a rebirth of a kind of modern optimism but none of that politics is apparent Fran was interested in giving us a cross-section of what we might see if we walked outside onto the boulevards in Paris so on the Left we have a figure sitting alone on a bench reading a newspaper just to the right we have two men who are talking who rather well-dressed may be business men then just to the right of that that small family led by a mother and then some figures in a carriage coming our way the city was a place to view and one could be a kind of dispassionate onlooker a flat nor you said before that the form of the painting was also radically modern and I think that's also hard for us to understand because sauce it looks quite normal and we love impressionist paintings like this but the sketchiness that we see here is radical Renoir has reduced these trees to big broad brushstrokes some areas that sweep across and also little dabs of paint and he's not rendering the type of tree that's represented here we might guess that it might be a London plane tree perhaps but we don't know precisely what it is this is not about conveying the specifics of any individual form of representing the momentary and that notion of the momentary of the fragmentary is such a modern and urban idea it's really perfect for the scene well in representing the fleeting but also representing an optical experience what does this look like to my eye at this moment not what I know about a tree but how I actually perceive and experience that tree with the light coming through it on a bright summer day and he's remarkably successful in doing this look at the carriage for instance with the white horse and the driver and then the couple of the back it's only the barest notations and yet it feels as if that horse is moving forward towards us and we can almost hear it so if false so this becomes an environment that is filled with live motion and filled with sound we talked about this painting as being this remarkably new and modern image in both its form and its content but in some way is Renoir is also stepping back just a little bit he's giving us some clues about a recession into space we have a diagonal line that appears to recede into the background much like a traditional orthogonal going from the bottom right and moving back up toward the left and especially at the top of the apartment houses and the top of the trees exactly but we fail to really calculate a measurable distance into space and that was something that was required of paintings in the 19th century and he's also not quite dissolving the form of the human body as much as for example Monet is from exactly this time like the Boulevard de keppo scene for example the figures are really reduced to the short few strokes of heat and you can't see fashion you can't see gesture very characteristic of Renoir is this interest in human beings and their social lives we're still getting a sense of family groups of people talking to one another of sociability this was a city inhabited and Renoir has created that social dynamic that populated this new urban experience right but where other artists are interested in depicting the sense of alienation or aloneness of that experience in the city that was really different from the small communities that had made up Paris before that Renoir is showing us a small optimistic side of modern life you