Bal au Moulin de la Galette

Renoir’s Bal au Moulin de la Galette, Musee d’Orsay 2016

In 1876, Parisians were still trying to recover from the devastation of the Franco-Prussian defeat (1870-1871) and the following horrors of the Commune.  Parisians needed a place of respite and the hills of Montmartre were just the place to find it.  Montmartre was about an hour by foot from the city center and was famous for its fresh air, orchards, windmills and beautiful views, sitting at the highest point in Paris.  In the early 1800’s, there were about 30 windmills in Montmartre; but now as the cornfields had been replaced by factories and tenements, there were only two remaining, both owned by the Debray family.

     The Debrays turned one of the windmills into a viewing tower and opened up a dance hall next door.  The family baked delicious galettes to serve with wine and beer and eventually gave this name to the windmill. Thus the Moulin de la Galette was born attracting the lower and middle class workers as well as local artists on Sunday afternoons and public holidays.  Renoir and his friends frequented the Moulin de la Galette and here he set up his easel to paint his now famous Bal au Moulin de La Galette.

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       In this work. Renoir captures a mixing of classes under the gas lamps lighting up the dance floor. As you can see, many of the women in his painting are en cheveux (in her hair), which was an outward sign of a dubious reputation. Women of middle-class respectability were never seen without their hats. Jean Renoir, the artist’s son, described these models as “to that category of unattached girls who were typical of the Parisian morals of the day…who changed their lovers frequently. It is to them that we owe the image of Paris during that era as radiant witty and full of gaiety”.   Renoir also portrays the class of men wearing the summery boater or tall black top hat as the soft felt hats were still considered too revolutionary.

    In Bal au Moulin de La Galette, Renoir painted with light colors not from theory, but because he stated that it was “a need that was in the air, in everyone, unconsciously”(Castellani, 20).  Renoir used a subtle and lively brushstroke to accentuate the cobalt blue in the dresses and contrasts with the vivid yellows. According to his son Jean, Renoir only painted with silver, white, three different hues of yellow, natural sienna, two reds, two greens and two blues-nothing else- during this period. Renoir had just recently returned from a visit to Monet in Argenteuil where he had experimented with the colors painting in a spacious, airy canvas recording the vibrant elements of light and reflection.

  In 1877, Gustave Caillebotte, hosted a dinner party for Renoir, Manet, Monet, Pisarro, Degas and Sisley to discuss the third Exhibition of their Impressionist paintings.  The group found a large apartment on rue le Peletier just off of Boulevard Haussmann and displayed more than 240 works of art.  Included in this exhibition was Renoir’s Bal au Moulin de La Galette,

      Bal au Moulin de la Galette is in the permanent collection at the Musee d’Orsay in its newly renovated section of Impressionism.


Castellani, F. (1996) Renoir: His Life and His Works. Chartwell Publishing, NY

Tachen, (2013) Masterpieces under the Microscope.

Copyright 2015 by Robyn Lowrie.  May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (

Further Reading:

“Where to Find Renoir in the United States: