Taking a Stroll in Renoir's "The Promenade"

"The Promenade" (“the stroll” in French) is one of the most engaging and approachable of all Impressionist paintings. Step into Pierre-Auguste Renoir's enticing depiction of a youthful couple on a romantic promenade.

By The J. Paul Getty Museum

Dappled sunlight plays across a lush woodland glade . . .

A young man pushes the foliage aside to clear the way for his female companion . . . 

. . . she turns her head aside in a show of modesty, perhaps hesitant to follow him farther into the woods. 

In The Promenade, both figures are crucial to the scene, but they are treated very differently. 

Brightly lit and wearing a white dress, the woman is the dominant focus of the picture. 

Sporting a dark jacket and pressing back against the foliage, the man is a far more shadowy figure, only partially lit by scattered flashes of sunlight on his trousers, hands, collar, and hat.


The trail into the depths of the wood may be well lit, but . . .

. . . there is the hint, in the young man’s heavily shaded, almost caricatural features, that his intentions might be less than pure.

The Setting of "The Promenade"

There is nothing in the painting that allows us to pinpoint the exact location of Renoir’s scene, but it’s clear from the dense, overgrown foliage and rough, uneven terrain that this is not the cultivated space of a park or garden.

The most telling clue is the figures’ relatively informal urban dress, which suggests that they are Parisian pleasure seekers on an excursion outside the city.

The distinctive ribboned hat worn by the man identifies him as a canotier,  or boater – a common sight along the Seine River valley to the west of Paris. 

Have these two just left their boat by the riverbank in a search for greater privacy?   

A Genre Painting

The Promenade is considered a genre painting, meaning it depicts a familiar scene of everyday life whose characters are recognizable social types.

The canotier can be imagined in his weekday life as a petit bourgeois, belonging to the lower-middle class . . . 

. . . and his companion as one of the legendary grisettes, the good-hearted girls common in the mythology of Parisian bohemian life who were interested in handsome young men for their charm, not their money.

Together, these day-tripping Parisians evoke an easygoing, semi-bohemian world in which the pursuit of fleeting pleasures is paramount and social strictures are relaxed in the context of unbound nature.

La Promenade (1870) by Pierre-Auguste RenoirThe J. Paul Getty Museum

La Promenade (1870) by Pierre-Auguste RenoirThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Technique in "The Promenade"

The informality of the picture’s youthful, romantic subject is complemented by that of its lively, energetic technique.

The Promenade rejects traditional notions of drawing and the imperative to clearly delineate and carefully model forms. Instead, Renoir works in a vibrant, painterly mode, animating the whole picture surface with fluid, broken brushstrokes and flecks and dashes of contrasting tone and color.

Through brushwork and the modulation of light and color, he creates a dynamic interplay between the figures and their natural surroundings, responding in his way to one of the defining challenges of the Impressionist generation: how to depict large-scale figures outdoors in sunlight.

Despite the apparent informality and speed of Renoir’s loose, flickering technique, The Promenade is a work of great artifice, its composition is carefully framed and orchestrated.
 

While dark foliage in the upper left corner sets off the woman in white . . .

. . .  sun-dappled greens in the upper right corner set off the man’s dark figure . . .

In the bottom corners, the scene is framed by a delicate spray of leafy twigs and a massive tree trunk—contrasting natural elements that wittily echo the gendered opposition of Renoir's female and male figures. 

And just as the man leads the woman up the path, so a sequence of pink and red touches lead the viewer’s eye across the composition . . .

. . .  from the woman's face and hat through the joined hands . . .

. . .  to the man's face and the remarkable red ribbon on his hat . . .

. . . and finally to his left hand, pointing to where he wishes her to go.

La Promenade (1870) by Pierre-Auguste RenoirThe J. Paul Getty Museum

"I like a painting which makes me want to stroll in it.”
-Renoir

Credits: Story

© 2021 The J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles.

The text in this exhibition draws from the book:
Pierre-Auguste Renoir: La Promenade by John House available for free from Getty Publications.

To cite these texts, please use: "Taking a Stroll in Renoir's The Promenade" published online in 2021 via Google Arts & Culture, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.  

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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