Text by Geoffrey Smith
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In 1869 Renoir and Monet had spent part of the summer painting together at a popular bathing spot, La Grenouillère near Bougival just outside Paris. A remarkable chemistry between them generated a special moment in the gestation of impressionism. In this painting, completed a year later, Renoir has used a somewhat darker palette than his Grenouillère paintings - closer perhaps to that of Gustave Courbet - but the brushwork is very much that of Renoir’s distinctive impressionist technique.
Some have seen in this painting the influence of eighteenth-century French painters such as Jean-Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, whose output he would have seen in the Louvre. This is possible but instead of the well bred leisured elite of the French ancien regime Renoir depicts middle-class Parisians recently freed to take the air in the countryside around Paris by the construction of suburban railways. This scene could be anywhere but the chances are that Renoir might have returned to the fashionable retreats near Bougival.
The dappled light playing on the couple, along with the flickering dabs and dashes of paint became a Renoir hallmark during the 1870s and 1880s.
1870 Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Beata Beatrix, London, Tate
1870 Jean-François Millet: Killing of the Pig, Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada
1870 Gustave Courbet: The Wave, Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut