After reading about and seeing the horrific images yesterday of yet another terrorist attack, this time in Nice, France, my heart was very heavy for the citizens and my friends in France. Therefore, today I am highlighting a painting by one of their own: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, La Balançoire (1876). Renoir brought much healing through his art to France after the Franco-Prussian war, the Commune, and losing so many of its citizens in WWI. In light of the many terrorist attacks on France in the past two years, the healing must continue.
The Impressionist took painting out of dark studios and stark subjects into the beauty of nature. Being a part of nature is very calming and a great respite from the doldrums of everyday life. Many of Renoir’s paintings are en plein air (everyday life) in Paris. He painted La Balançoire or The Swing, from the courtyard in his backyard, which is now The Musée du Montmartre (sans swing!). La Balançoire is part of the permanent collection of the Musée D’Orsay in Paris. The models in this painting, Renoir’s brother Edmond, Robert Goeneutte, and Jeanne, are also in his painting The Ball at the Moulin de la Galette. Renoir showed this painting as well as the Ball at the Moulin de la Galette at the 3rd Exhibition in 1877 .
In The Swing, Renoir shows the transience of sensation which led the Impressionists to play with fabrics and patterns and to invent new poses which had been displayed in the new-found art of photography. One critic said that he could even see the “taches de graisse sur les habits des homes” (touches of grease on the men’s clothes) in this painting (Conniasance des Arts, 42). I love how Renoir plays with the sunlight coming through the trees, casting shadows on the characters and the ground underneath. The blue ribbons on the young woman’s dress seems to highlight les papillons (butterflies) flitting about white puffy clouds. The little girl is waiting in anticipation for her turn on the swing. I imagine that she will have to wait for a while!
The Impressionists also wanted to highlight the fashion of the day through their paintings. Renoir used the magic of shadows and light to display this modernity in his paintings. I had the great fortune to see the dress which Renoir depicted in this painting at the Musée d’Orsay’s exhibition, “L’Impressionnisme et la Mode”, along with many other vetements of modernity that were displayed. From 1860-1870, la mode had become accessible to the public for the first time. Beautiful dresses were not just for the bourgeoisie, the rich and royal, but now were affordable to the working class as well. The Impressionists were the first group of artists to depict everyday life in France.
As is true today, in nineteenth century France there were many challenges and hardships brought about by war, racism, poverty, and unemployment. Monet painted his series of Les Nympheas (Waterlilies) to honor the Veterans of Wars and had the Musée de L’Orangerie built in order to house these canvases. I am uncertain if Renoir had this in mind when he painted, or he just wanted to express and share his incredible talent with the world. Either way, his work in La Balançoire has made my heart lighter today.
Copyright 2016 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com).