See also Dance in the country, 1883
“About 1883, there was a kind of break in my work. I had come to the end of Impressionism and I arrived at the conclusion that I knew neither how to paint nor draw. In a word, I was at an impasse.” So Renoir said in looking back at his career (quoted in A. Vollard, Renoir, Paris, 1920, p. 135).
During the winter of 1881-82 Renoir was in Italy. He immersed himself in the work of Raphael and the frescoes from Pompei and stayed for a while with Cézanne, who by then had already begun to abandon Impressionism. Renoir admired Cézanne and must surely have been influenced by his rejection of the pure Impressionist style. Dance in the City and Dance in the Country, painted only a few months apart, are among the first important works to signify a fundamental change in his art. Like Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette (no. 36), these are large, ambitious paintings that required lengthy posing and were preceded by preparatory sketches and studies. Dance at Bougival (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Daulte I, no. 438) is thought to be a first version of Dance in the Country, but it has a fuller composition and the two principal figures are transposed. Renoir considered Dance in the Country interesting enough to make two etchings based on it (see J. Leymarie and M. Melot, Les Gravures des Impressionnistes, Paris, 1971, nos. 2,3).
Compared to earlier works, the present pictures are distinguishable by their clarity of contour. Although not as defined as the forms in the Grandes Baigneuses of 1887 (Philadelphia Museum of Art), the long development of which began shortly after the two Dance... pictures, these contours are far more precise than in works of the preceding decade. Although Renoir’s contours here are not as cursive as in Gauguin’s after 1888 or in the work of Suzanne Valadon, who posed for these pictures, the shapes are distinct areas of flat colour. The modelling is tempered by uniform, neutral light, nearly identical in the indoor and open-air scenes. There is neither a sense of reflected light nor an impasted paint surface; the painted canvas is smooth, even, and porcelainlike, as an Ingres often is. With this pair of pictures Renoir’s break with the so-called Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette period is complete.
Dance in the City and Dance in the Country are pendants, as is evident in their dimensions and style. In each Renoir reduced his subject to essentials : the evening clothes of the couple and the green plants in the “city” version, the abandoned table and the arbour in the other. Though the lady at the ball seems more rigid than her counterpart in the country tavern, one would be foolish to explain it in terms of class differences. It is more likely an echo of a “couples” theme that appeared as early as 1868 in Renoir's Sisley Couple (The Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne; Daulte no. 34) or in the couples in the middle ground of Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette. Moreover Renoir clearly intended the country and city dance canvases to reflect contemporary, everyday life, in contrast to Degas’s pictures of professional dancers from the effete world of the theatre and the stage. Perhaps Renoir wanted to compete with the elegant and mundane subjects of Manet, Tissot, and Stevens, and the portraits of fashionable women so well represented in the official Salons. By the mid-eighties even official painting had begun to be influenced by Impressionist handling of light, making it possible for a conservative Impressionist and a liberal academician to share the middle ground.
Paul Lhote, one of Renoir's friends, and Suzanne Valadon, who posed for Renoir, Degas, and Puvis de Chavannes before she became a painter herself, modeled for Dance in the City. Paul Lhote, again, and Madame Renoir, according to Daulte, posed for Dance in the Country. According to Tabarant, however, Suzanne Valadon posed for both (see A. Tabarant, “Suzanne Valadon et ses souvenirs de modéle,” Bulletin de la Vie Artistique, 1921, p. 627). M. Driicker offers yet another opinion, asserting that it is Madame Renoir in Dance in the City and Suzanne Valadon in Dance in the Country as well as in Dance at Bougival. Comparisons with faces in known portraits indicate Suzanne Valadon in Dance in the Country and Madame Renoir in Dance in the City. Suzanne Valadon’s recol- lection that she posed for both (see A. Tabarant) is possibly ex- plained by her having modeled for Dance at Bougival, in which the model's face is unfortunately not clear enough to identify.
Renoir to Durand-Ruel, August 25, 1891, for 7500 francs.
1883 Paris, Durand-Ruel Gallery, Renoir, no. 26
1892 Paris, Durand-Ruel Gallery, Renoir. p. 81
1904 Brussels, La Libre Esthétique, Exposition des Peintres Impressionnistes, no. 32
1905 London, The Grafton Galleries, Pictures by Boudin... Renoir, no. 242
1912 Paris, Bagatelle, La Musique, La Danse, no. 105
1920 Paris, Durand-Ruel Gallery, Renoir, no. 1
1932 Paris, Durand-Ruel Gallery, Quelques iures importantes de Manet & van Gogh, no. 41
1933 Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Renoir, no, 69, illus. plate xu
1937 Paris, Palais National des Ans, Chefs d@uvres de Fart francais, no, 398, pl. 85
1939 New York, Durand-Ruel Gallery, Loan Exhibition of Portraits by Renoir, no. 7
1964 Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, La Douce France. no. 41, ils.
1969 Paris, Durand-Ruel Gallery, Renoir intime, no, 16, illus.
1973 An Institute of Chicago, Paintings by Renoir, no. 43, illus.
1974 Paris, Durand-Ruel Gallery, Cent ans 'Impressionnisme, no, 52
F, Daulte, Auguste Renoir, Lausanne, 1971, no. 440, illus. in color; with a complete bibtiography through the date of publication to which the following should be added
M. Driicker, Renoir, Paris, 1944, p. 205;
J. Maxon, Paintings by Renoir, Chicago, 1973,no, 43, illus.