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Pierre-Auguste Renoir's The Dancer is an oil on canvas completed in early 1874 and was exhibited along with another six of his works in April 1874 as part the of the inaugural exhibition of a group of artists at the studio of Nadar
This group of artists included Monet, Cezanne, Sisley and Pissarro and would later become known at the Impressionists.
While the relaxed brushstrokes are typical of the Impressionist style, the subject is at the centre of the canvas and therefore echoes a more traditional style of portraiture. The dancer is alert, with her feet in ballet's fifth position and looks directly at the viewer.
By contrast Edgar Degas' series of paintings of ballerinas painted during the same period were less formal, with dancers resting or practising and not meeting the viewer's gaze (see Dance Class, Blue Dancers, and Green Dancer).
By combining this traditional positioning of the subject with the innovative style of painting typical of the Impressionists, Renoir produced a work that was well-received by many patrons attending the exhibition in 1874, who found some of the works of other Impressionists too challenging.
Dancers have long since proven of interest to portrait painters, as shown in Pablo Picasso's Three Dancers, Gustav Klimt's The Dancer and Dance by Alphonse Mucha.
The most notably feature of The Dancer is arguable Renoir's brushwork. The subject's face, head and feet are composed of neat and delicate brushstrokes and this contrasts with the loose, energetic and free brushstrokes that give the tulle of the dancer's dress such a light, almost floating quality.
The background too is painted in loose brushstrokes. This contrast between the style of brushwork used on the head, arms and feet and the much looser brushwork on the background and her tutu ensure that eye is drawn to the detailed face and footwork of the dancer. The detailing of the satin ribbons on her ballet slippers, the choker around her neck and her bracelet draw our attention to her classic and professional ballet stance which is at odds with her youthful face and figure.
Henriette Henriot, a muse for Renoir - The dancer featured in the painting was the 14 year-old actress Henriette Henriot (1857 - 1944). Henriot frequently modelled for Renoir and sat for both The Dancer and The Parisienne in 1874. She also featured in at least ten other works by Renoir including La Source (1875) and The Page (1876). She later became a well-known actress, starring in performances at the Theatre de l'Odeon and the Theatre Libre. In subsequent years Renoir moved away from using Henriot as a model. Later works such as Dance at Bougival (1883), Dance in the City (1883), Girl Braiding Her Hair (1885) and Suzanne Valadon (1885) feature painter and model Suzanne Valadon as their subject.