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(piano music) Voiceover: We're in the Musee d'Orsay, standing in front of Renoir's beautiful 1876 "Moulin de la Galette." Voiceover: What really strikes is just how vibrant, how rich the color is. Voiceover: No. The greens and the blues and the pinks and the oranges are incredibly vivid. I mean the painting glows light. This is a fairly large impressionist painting for an image painted out of doors. Voiceover: Let's locate this in history for just a moment. This is 1876. That's two years after the first Impressionist Exhibition, and it's only five years after the Paris Commune, when Paris was burning. This painting is all about pleasure and well-being. Voiceover: It is reserved just at the outskirts of Paris. Voiceover: Right, on the Northern Hill. Voiceover: And though quite rural, in many ways, and was a place really where the working class lived, but which was frequented by the middle class. We're in a place called the Moulin de la Galette, which was an outdoor dance hall. You can imagine outdoor music and food and dancing and mingling and flirting, and that's exactly what Renoir gives us in a way that's amazingly uncomposed. He's really captured that sense of the movement of the crowd. Voiceover: You used the word "movement," and you used the word "mingling." It is absolutely the subject, but it's also the optical experience because the way that the sun dapples through the leaves of this open garden and the way that it picks up certain things and hides other things here is this swirl of light and shadow in a way that speaks of the momentary of, the mutability of everything, and that everything is now open. Everything is in flux. Everything is possible. It is, in that way, a tremendously modern painting. Voiceover: And we know there is this new interest in Paris, in leisure, and for Renoit especially, in the pleasure of that leisure. Members of the Impressionist group like Degas will paint the disassociations that happen between people when they come together in the city. But for Renoir, when they come together, there is this remarkable bonding that happens. Voiceover: It feels easy and very carefree. Voiceover: These two female figures in the center, one who leans on the other's shoulders while the other one turns her back around to flirt with a man who faces toward them, I mean everyone feels like they know everyone else, Voiceover: Right, this major city. Voiceover: This is a huge city at this point, and there is this feeling of conviviality of a small neighborhood. Voiceover: And of easy exchange. Voiceover: Yes. Voiceover: And this is a moment when the middle class, when an industrial society is now all about exchange, but now, it's an exchange that exists in the social realm as well. This is a painting we had said about pleasure. You get a sense of Renoit's own pleasure in painting this. Voiceover: Yeah. Voiceover: Look at the brushwork. Look for instance at the still life in the lower right corner. Look at those glasses of wine or beer Renoir has caught, for instance, that man refilling his pipe, which is upended on the table. Voiceover: Great moments, yeah. but the way in which the brush strokes vertically up those glasses, creating simultaneously the sense of light and the sense of the coolness of the glass itself. Voiceover: Or look at the dappled sunlight on the back of that figure Voiceover: The artist is enjoying himself enormously. Voiceover: He is. And the pinks and blues of her dress, the yellows and grays on the straw hats of the boaters and the men, I mean it's just a tour de force, really, of painting. This whole loose brushwork, this is a kind of painting that would have been unacceptable or even difficult to imagine before the Impressionists. The Impressionists are taking things that are sketchy, beginning with the inspiration of Manet, taking this loose open brushwork where forms don't have really clear contours and are represented in a very sketchy way, a way that represents the sense of movement and flux and the ephemerality of modern life. Voiceover: The goal is not a resolution of the visual but actually to catch that sense of the momentary, to catch that broader experience of seeing. Voiceover: And when that happens, the distinction between foreground and background ... Voiceover: Begins to dissolve. Voiceover: ... begins to dissolve. I mean we can tell because the forms in the background are smaller. But generally speaking, forms in the background would be less intense in color. Voiceover: In a sense, what that does is it invites your eye to move across the surface as a whole, and so he wants us to take in the entirety of the swirling bodies, of the fluctuating light, of all of that. Voiceover: And at the same time that we take in all of it, our eye stops in several places. Couples dancing cheek to cheek, couples in the back, on the bench behind, who seem to have, in the middle of a little bit of a tiff, perhaps. You do get places where your eye can rest, but in general, your eye takes in this swirl of modern life and pleasure. (piano music)