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The Renoir Painting

Dance at Bougival

By C. H. RichardPublished 10 months ago Updated 10 months ago 5 min read
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Dance at Bougival, Pierre August-Renoir, Museum of Fine Arts Boston

I was in awe that day. Not because Mrs Carlos, my high school art teacher, had nearly gotten myself and five of my classmates killed on the way to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She had driven through two red lights, turned the wrong way on a one-way street and then turned onto the trolley tracks for half a mile while all her students screamed. She was a much better artist than she was a driver, and she was a fabulous art historian. I understand now why she was so excited to share her knowledge and engage us in her world which may have been why she did not have time to focus on the drive there.

The fact that we were going to museum was amazing in and of itself. Mrs Carlos was a bit of free thinker and the nuns at the all-girls Catholic high school that I attended probably did not want to know what was taught in the art studio which was a small cottage located outside the main building on the property. The cozy structure was a place where we would draw, paint, and listen to classical music. Conversation would flow and other times be completely quiet.

It was quite the opposite of the main building where there were rules for which stairs you could travel up, which stairs you could travel down, (I was always in trouble for this!) How long your uniform skirt needed to be, there was a nun who took measurements. (I was in trouble for this too!) A great deal of added stress to already difficult teenage years. Mrs Carlo's art cottage provided needed refuge from constant rigid structure. I’m not sure I ever saw any of the nuns travel down the short walk to her studio. Maybe they did not want to know that we were studying, sometimes even painting human form in nakedness. No there weren't any live nude models, but Mrs Carlos would have us study works to give us ideas of how to draw a woman or a man in a natural state. Maybe the nuns thought they would come face to face with statue of David. Or they were worried they would hear that we were discussing our latest boyfriends or the works of Picasso, Monet or Mrs Carlo’s favorite, Pierre August-Renoir.

My mother was a talented artist who had already brought me and my siblings to several museums as well tried to get us interested in painting and drawing. But I had never been to the Museum of Fine Arts before this day and neither had any of my classmates who were on that trip. Mrs Carlos understood this, and it added to her excitement to show us particularly when it came to Renoir.

Her love of Renoir became my love of Renoir as I learned of his technique of focusing on central characters and making the background more of an impressionist feel. I appreciated his love of color, and how he could bring forth emotion with his vision. The fact that he continued to paint through a debilitating disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, which would eventually cause him to use a wheelchair, was also remarkable. Mrs Carlos knew I was particularly drawn to Dance at Bougival. Once at the museum, she directed us right to his collection and pulled me to turn around as I stood in awe.

There are certain moments in this life that take your breath away. Seeing this painting was one of those moments for me. It was magnificent. The colors were so vivid of the woman’s hat, the man’s jacket. The focus of the man’s gaze as the woman looked away felt so intense. The surrounding people in the background were blurred as if the couple was there alone. To me it defined the word passion.

While I was starring in awe, Mrs Carlos went on to speak to the group,

“It has been said that if the museum had to choose one painting, they needed to save in the event of catastrophe this would be that artwork.”

"Yes!" I thought this would be one I would save too.

I have visited the Museum several times since that day. One time I went with an old boyfriend who would later give me a framed print of the painting for Christmas which I still have.

Picture of me in my twenties with a gift from an old boyfriend

I have learned a bit more about Renoir and Dance at Bougival. Renoir had many muses who would model for his work. One would become his wife, Aline Charigot, who was quite beautiful and modeled for many of his paintings. However, she was not the model in this painting. In Dance at Bougival the model was Suzanne Valadon.

Suzanne was unconventional and lived life as a free spirit. According to the book, “Renoir’s Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon” by Catherine Hewitt, Suzanne had love affairs with many of the French painters of the impressionist era including Renoir. I think the passion that I sense from this painting does now have a reason. There was a connection between artist and his beautiful model. I also think Renoir choose a male model that at least from the side angle resembles him. I see the passion, that perhaps we all long for yet many times move away from as it is so intense.

Suzanne would later become a painter in her own right. After modeling for many different artists, she was self-taught and picked up techniques from painters such as Monet and Renoir. She would be the first woman painter admitted to the Society Nationale des Beaux-Arts which was an exclusive group of French artists that united to exhibit and sell their works during the late nineteenth century. She often painted female figures to show not only beauty but their strength.

Now when I look at this painting. I see so many things. I see a love that was too powerful to commit to. I see a woman who would not be confined to settle down. I see an artist who loved his subject even if it was not a love that would stay.

Then I also see a high school art teacher who could not drive, but to whom I am forever grateful for her teaching.

PaintingInspirationHistoryFine Art
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About the Creator

C. H. Richard

My passion is and has always been writing. I am particularly drawn to writing fiction that has relatable storylines which hopefully keep readers engaged

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Comments (13)

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  • Mother Combs9 months ago

    <3

  • Kristen Balyeat10 months ago

    I LOVE Renoir and enjoyed this story so much! I have seen this painting but didn’t know the story of the woman in the piece. So fun to learn a bit more about this amazing artist, and you! 💫💞

  • Tiffany Gordon 10 months ago

    Such a gorgeously-crafted piece & Beautiful painting Cindy! I love the pops of color and mood of the art piece as well. I was not familiar with this artist until now! Thank you for the introduction! I am also inspired by the fact that he was able to power through & masterfully paint his heart out even with his RA! Wonderful work Cindy!

  • This was great loved the artwork and the story

  • Hahahahaha omggg Mrs Carlos is the bomb! I can see myself doing whatever she did, lol! Well maybe I wouldn't run a red light but definitely I would have entered a one way street from the wrong way 🤣🤣🤣 Now when I look at this painting. I see so many things. I see a love that was too powerful to commit to. I see a woman who would not be confined to settle down. I see an artist who loved his subject even if it was not a love that would stay. I loved what you wrote in this paragraph because I was able to feel all these when I saw the painting!

  • Gina C.10 months ago

    I have always love Renior! He is one of my absolute favorites. 😍 I loved the part about your art teacher driving 🤗 Wonderful entry, Cindy!

  • Great storytelling ❤️😉📝💯

  • Grz Colm10 months ago

    👏😊 I don’t know this painting, but know a little about the impressionist movement. Thanks for sharing this personal reflection.

  • Cathy holmes10 months ago

    This is a wonderful piece. Well done.

  • Babs Iverson10 months ago

    Love this on so many levels!!! Spectacular story!!! Loved it!!!♥️♥️💕

  • Beautiful painting, with an interesting pair of stories to match (yours & Suzanne's).

  • Dana Stewart10 months ago

    Love this story, the memory of your art teacher driving was funny. I am so glad you got to see the real painting, this is another Renoir favorite of mine.

  • Caroline Craven10 months ago

    Thought was great! I went to a convent school too - they had weird staircase rules as well! Ha! Your art teacher sounds fantastic and I’m glad you got to see this amazing painting in person.

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