The ball, a social practice

The ball, a social practice

  • Dance in the city.

    RENOIR Pierre Auguste (1841 - 1919)

  • Dance in the countryside.

    RENOIR Pierre Auguste (1841 - 1919)

  • Back from the ball.

    ROLL Alfred (1846 - 1919)

To close

Title: Dance in the city.

Author : RENOIR Pierre Auguste (1841 - 1919)

Creation date : 1883

Date shown: 1883

Dimensions: Height 180 - Width 90

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 96-016605 / RF1978-13

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: Dance in the countryside.

Author : RENOIR Pierre Auguste (1841 - 1919)

Creation date : 1883

Date shown: 1883

Dimensions: Height 180 - Width 90

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 96-016603 / RF1979-64

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: Back from the ball.

Author : ROLL Alfred (1846 - 1919)

Creation date : 1886

Date shown: 1886

Dimensions: Height 205 - Width 122

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Nantes Museum of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 02-007770 / Inv1159

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: October 2014

Historical context

The century of "dansomania"

In the XIXe century, the ball is part, according to various modalities, of the leisures of all the layers of the population. The phenomenon reached its peak under the July Monarchy; in the gardens installed for the most part on the Champs-Élysées - like the Mabille ball - the waltz, the polka and the mazurka triumph. In these places, soon called "musette balls", after 1900, new dances imported from abroad appeared: boston, matchiche, cake-walk. The student who is going to "cheek" with a grisette at a neighborhood ball, the civil servant whose career forces him to go with his wife to the prefecture ball, the young girl who makes her debut at a ball given in the suburb Saint-Germain: all participate in this “dansomania” observed by contemporaries.

Image Analysis

Dance and bourgeoisie

The characters painted by Renoir and by Roll belong to the same world, despite appearances. Indeed, Dance in the countryside is not a popular scene. Conceived as a diptych, Renoir's two paintings are two sides of the same social reality, as their primitive titles better suggest: Dance in Paris and Dance in Chatou (in 1883 at the Durand-Ruel gallery), Winter dance and Dance summer (in 1886 at an exhibition in Brussels). It is indeed the same dancer (Paul Lhote, a friend of the painter who posed for both paintings) who is staged twice - in one case wearing the traditional evening dress (black coat and white gloves ) and in the other a simple blue jacket and pants. His partner in Chatou may be a demigod or a country girl. Her long frill dress, red flanged hat and yellow cuffed gloves do little to situate her socially. But the spontaneous expression of joy on her face turned towards the viewer suggests that she is frankly indulging in the pleasure of the dance. The corner of the table with his leftover meals in the background as well as the straw boater who rolled on the ground also suggest a joyful carelessness and a forgetting of the conveniences that the dancer could not allow himself, for his share, that exceptionally. Dance in the city, on the contrary, shows the same character in a much more stilted posture. The chestnut trees of Chatou have given way to green plants, the balustraded terrace is replaced by a marble ballroom. The dancer's second partner wears an evening dress with a train and her hair is pulled up into an elegant bun decorated with a flower. A critic remarked, in 1892: "The orchestra, which knows the coldness of worldly pleasures, slows down the time and the couple circulate lazily. No animation, no craving for pleasure in this physiognomy. We can imagine that Roll's painting shows the same young woman a few hours later, returning home in the early hours of the morning. Assisted by her maid, she unlaces her corset. The erotic connotation that this gesture could have is attenuated by the melancholy which emerges from the scene, as if, stripped of its worldly adornment, Roll's heroine was sent back to a painful solitude.

Interpretation

The whirlwind of modern life

A pupil of Gérôme and Bonnat, Alfred Roll was not for all that an academic and conventional painter; like the impressionists, he found great attractions in the scenes of modern life. As well Back from the ball can it be legitimately placed next to Dance in the city and of Dance in the countryside which are, however, among Renoir's most famous paintings. The three paintings have the particularity of presenting full-length and life-size painted figures who impose themselves with force on the viewer. Renoir and Roll seem to seek in the theme of the ball as a transposition of the new rhythm imposed on the French by the modernization experienced by the country from the 1850s. While the development of the railroad made possible the discovery of speed, the ball appears as the metaphor of a society in perpetual motion and where everyone is condemned to turn in the circle assigned to him. When this movement stops, as in Roll's painting, it seems as though it can only lead to boredom and emptiness - in this case the gray sight reflected in the mirror in front of which she is undressing. While the dance as it is practiced in Chatou still allows the expression of a true joie de vivre, the social ball is only a social rite where, despite their embracing, the dancers seem to ignore each other.

  • bourgeoisie
  • dance
  • Hobbies

Bibliography

Anne DISTEL, John HOUSE and Lawrence Gowing, Renoir, catalog of the Grand Palais exhibition, 14 May-2 September 1985, Paris, RMN, 1985 François GASNAULT, Guinguettes and lorettes: public balls and social dance in Paris between 1830 and 1870, Paris, Aubier, 1986.Henri JOANNIS-DEBERNE, Dancing in society: balls and dances of yesterday and today, Paris, C. Bonneton, 1999.

To cite this article

Jean-Claude YON, "The ball, a social practice"

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