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Video transcript

[music] We're in the Musée d'Orsay looking at Auguste Renoir's "Moulin de la Galette." -Such a pleasurable scene, people socializing, flirting, dancing. -And it seems a perfect subject for the style of impressionism which is concerned with fleeting visual moments. -And with leisure. The new idea of spending your free time socializing in the cafes in Paris. -This is a beer hall, an outside place to gather, perhaps, after work. -And it was frequented not by the highest levels of society, but by people who are more working class. -And we can actually see that especially in the garb of the men where we see very few top hats. -The women are fashionably dressed. You can tell there's a love of fashion here by Renoir. -And a love of interaction. Renoir seems drawn to intimacy as the interactions between people. -Look at the two female figures in the center foreground. The one who's standing leans over and talks to the man just to the right, puts her shoulder on the seated figure on the bench dressed in that lovely pink and blue striped dress. There's interaction among groups. -Renoir has provided us with all of these little vignettes. You have the two men seated at the right; one of them seems to be writing, the group of three in the lower center, pairs of dancers that move across the left side, and if you look at the tree that's to the right, you see a man perhaps whispering something in the ear of the woman just in front of him. -And below him, the face of a little boy who peeks out. What I think is so interesting about this painting is it's all-overness. Our eye isn't drawn to any single place here, to any single couple, and I think that's one of the things that made this painting so radical in the 19th century. Academic paintings, paintings sanctioned by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts exhibited at the official salon, had a focus; the artist brought your attention to somewhere using the composition, but here, all of the figures are spread across, and our eye rests in a multitude of places. -Part of that has to do with the overall handling of the paint and the handling of color. This painting is a kaleidoscope of pinks and yellows and blues and greens. All of those colors with the possible exception of greens which dominate at the top, are found everywhere across this canvas as is Renoir’s loose brushwork which feels fleeting. -A capturing of the momentary which was so important to the Impressionists and that looseness of brushwork, that sense of being able to see the paint itself was also something that violated those rules of academic painting. According to what you learned at the École de Beaux-Arts, paintings had perfect finish. You didn't see the hand of the artist. -But look, for instance, at the still life of the glasses and bottles to the lower right of the canvas. The shine is so much pure white paint. -And then we have this asymmetry in the composition too with the bulk of the figures on the lower right and actually some empty space to the left with a single couple dancing. -Who seemed almost spotlighted by the dappled sunlight filtering through the leaves of the trees above. This is exhibited at the Third Impressionist Exhibition, and that's important, because what the Impressionists did was decide to hold their own exhibition, to not submit their paintings to the official exhibition, to the salon, and instead to go directly to the public unmediated by the jury. -And it is that very same public that Renoir is here depicting. -Another important part of this painting is that interest in capturing the fleeting effects of light. We see the dappled sunlight on the faces of some of the figures particularly the figure on the right who's smoking a pipe who's just got that patch of sunlight on his temple. -Or the woman leaning in the center who's got just a little bit of light picking up one of the locks of her hair. -And perhaps the best example of dappled sunlight is on the back of the figure in the right foreground where his jacket almost looks polka-dotted because of that filtered sunlight coming through the trees. -But because of the handling of the canvas as a whole, there's a perfect logic, and we don't see it as polka dots; we see it as dappled sunlight. Artists like Monet, in contrast, are doing that with the landscape, but Renoir was doing something really daring here which is to do that with figures on a large canvas. This is an ambitious painting, and it's remarkable to think that this was painted entirely out of doors. Normally, an artist would do sketches outside and then paint something like this in a studio, but here an entirely different way of approaching and painting the subject. -One of the things that's so compelling, that feels so modern about this painting, is the sense of the arbitrary, the way in which a photograph, a snapshot, might catch a moment in time that is not perfectly composed. We see the front of figures as we would in a traditional painting, but we also see the sides and the backs of figures. We get the feeling that we have entered into this space, that we can join in this pleasure. [music]