The Swing (1876) by Renoir
Interpretation of Impressionist Genre Painting

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The Swing (1876) by Auguste Renoir

The Swing (La Balancoire) by Auguste Renoir.
One of the greatest modern paintings of the 19th-century.


Analysis of The Swing
Explanation of Other Impressionist Genre Paintings


Name: The Swing (La Balancoire) (1876)
Artist: Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Genre painting
Movement: Impressionism
Location: Musee d'Orsay, Paris

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).



One of the leading Impressionist painters, Renoir produced some of the greatest genre paintings of the 19th century. As well as The Swing, they include the masterpieces Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876, Musee d'Orsay) and Luncheon Of the Boating Party (1880-1, Phillips Collection, Washington DC). He also produced some sublime Impressionist landscape painting, such as Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877, Musee d'Orsay), and some outstanding Impressionist portraits, including Portrait of Madame Charpentier and Her Children (1879, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

NOTE: For the full story behind Impressionism and the group of young painters who created it, please see our 10-part series, beginning: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

Analysis of The Swing (La Balancoire) by Renoir

Renoir painted both The Swing and Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette in the summer of 1876, at his studio at 78 Rue Cortot, Montmartre. Renoir used to work on The Swing in the morning and on the Dance in the afternoon. The property had a large tree-lined garden which served as the scene for both paintings. The gardens and accompanying buildings are now preserved as the Musee de Montmartre. The male models used in The Swing, are Renoir's brother, Edmond; the painter Norbert Goeneutte; and Jeanne, Renoir's favourite model, whose sister Estelle was the principal model (in the blue and pink striped dress) in Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette.

Renoir was an optimistic painter. Love of life, a healthy moral outlook, and cheerful common sense were the basic elements of his character. All this appears in his canvases. Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917), the journalist and art critic, said of him: "Renoir is perhaps the first great artist who never painted a sad picture." Young women, children, and flowers form the repertory for his compositions. Freshness and joie de vivre emanate from each picture. Even his landscapes share this happiness for, with only a few exceptions, he did not paint winter scenes which were sombre and sad. Renoir even said himself: "For me a picture must be lovable, cheerful and pretty, yes pretty. There are enough tiresome things in life already without our taking the trouble to produce more."



The Swing bears witness to this joy in painting. It depicts a fine summer's day. A young man with his back to the viewer is talking to a young woman holding on to a swing, watched by another man who leans against the trunk of a tree, and a little girl. Renoir paints the scene like a snapshot of a conversation. The young woman appears to be blushing at something the young man has said, and looks away. Meantime, in the background, in order to balance the quartet in the foreground and add depth to the scene, Renoir has added a cluster of five loosely painted figures.

The key feature of The Swing is Renoir's success in capturing the effects of dappled sunlight as it filters through the overhanging foliage. As in The Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette and in the slightly earlier work Nude in the Sunlight (1875, Musee d'Orsay), Renoir creates a multi-coloured pattern of falling light and shadow, like a carpet of blossoms.

Both The Swing and The Dance were shown at the third of the Impressionist Exhibitions (1877), where - despite the negative reaction of the art critics to Renoir's treatment of dappled light - they were purchased by the painter-collector Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94). On Caillebotte's death they were bequeathed to the Nation.

Explanation of Other Impressionist Genre Paintings

Race Horses in front of the Stands (1866-8) by Degas.
Musee d'Orsay.

Family Reunion (1867) by Frederic Bazille.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Balcony (1868) by Manet.
Musee d'Orsay.

Bazille's Studio (1870) by Frederic Bazille.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Cradle (1873) by Berthe Morisot.
Musee d'Orsay.

The Floor Scrapers (1875) by Gustave Caillebotte.
Musee d'Orsay.

Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877) by Gustave Caillebotte.
Art Institute of Chicago.


• For analysis of other Impressionist genre paintings, see: Homepage.

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