Caught in the Act

Renoir's Paintings Dance Together Again

By Jared Bowen

June 3, 2012
Dance at Bougival, 1883(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) Dance in the Country and Dance in the City (Paris, Muse´e d’Orsay, Photographs © Re´union des Muse´es Nationaux / Art Resource, NY) Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841–1919)

BOSTON — For the second year in a row, the Museum of Fine Arts is presenting a Visiting Masterpieces program. On view right now is a set of works by the Impressionist painter Renoir that you cannot miss.
In 1883 Pierre-Auguste Renoir had high expectations for himself. Six foot tall expectations, as he painted a series of three life-sized portraits: “Dance at Bougival”, “Dance in the Country” and “Dance in the City”.  Now for the first time in a generation, the three paintings are reunited at the Museum of Fine Arts.

“All three were painted in 1883, which was a great period in his career when he was trying to get impressive works into his important exhibitions,” said Malcolm Rogers, director of the MFA. “You can tell, in another way, though, that he was in love with social life in Paris and around. He was intrigued by romance, by music.”
“Dance at Bougival” is the museum’s own, acquired by the MFA in 1937.  It presents a couple whirling in an outdoor café, a popular recreation spot just outside Paris on the Seine. The scene is carefree, and cigarette butts dot the floor. “Dance in the Country” finds a beaming woman, her fan held aloft as she’s embraced by a well-tailored gentleman on a tree covered balcony.  And “Dance in the City” shimmers. The woman here is adorned in a gorgeous, trailing dress and there’s just a hint of her dapper companion. The setting is lush and elegant.

Watch Jared’s MFA interview on "Greater Boston."

Most remarkable about all three paintings is how Renoir conveys a  sense of movement. “He depicts it beautifully and there’s something that I often ask myself,” said Rogers. “ ‘What sound is a painting making?’ and in these paintings you can hear the fabrics moving, the feet tapping and of course the feeling that there is music in the background as well.”
The works come together again in Boston as part of the museum’s Visiting Masterpieces series, with Country and City on loan from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
“We have a tremendous relationship with the Museum d’Orsay in Paris, and the two paintings were over here for another exhibition alongside our painting. And we said, ‘well can we have the three here in Boston? And everybody thought this would be a tremendous idea,” Rogers said.
Reunited, the three tall paintings are stunning—as exceptional as is this opportunity to see them.
About the Author
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 


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