Party like it’s 1877.
During the late 1800s artists were busting out of stuffy parlors and busy capturing everyday city life. Moulin de La Galette, atop Paris’ already painfully bohemian center of Montmartre, was a favorite locale for artists and party goers. The Moulin was a mill that specialized in a brown bread known as Galette. But, it essentially doubled as an open air club.
The most famous depiction of the Moulin De La Galette is by Auguste Renoir. His painting of one of the typical outdoor balls at the site captures the great movement, light and energy of partying circa the 1870s. The Moulin’s clientele was mostly middle class. Thanks to industrial revolution, the French bourgeoisie had the leisure time to rage at the Moulin and the pocket change to afford the latest mass produced styles.
Renoir is a master of light, and the dappled light effect throughout the Moulin de la Galette is incredibly detailed and realistic. His extreme dedication can even be seen in the corner table of the painting, where he manages to capture the intricate effect of light hitting glass in just a few quick strokes.
Other famous artists also found themselves at the dance hall. Henri Touluse Lautrec, known for his nightclub posters, did a rendition of the Moulin as well. Lautrec’s version is darker than Renoir’s painting. Lots of strong lines and angles set apart from the more mainstream impressionist style. It’s also a bit more removed. While Renoir seems to be painting from the center of the action, Lautrec seems pressed off in a corner, isolated from the gaiety and revelry.
Van Gogh also provides a unique perspective on the Moulin. Instead of the party, Vincent shows a slice of the neighborhood of Montmartre with the Moulin in the background. At the time Montmartre wasn’t getting gentrified like the rest of Paris. While old neighborhoods were demolished to make way for grand boulevards, Montmartre kept its windy cobblestone streets and dilapidated storefronts. Van Gogh provides a context for the party scene: a strangely sparse, almost seedy neighborhood. This is the Paris of the artists of the turn of the century. It’s a landscape that looks pretty foreign compared to the picture perfect postcards modern viewers expect of the French capital.
And today, the once seedy, raucous Moulin de La Galette is pretty picture perfect. Instead of hosting nighttime festivities for Paris’ artistic set, it’s a restaurant owned by a Michelin star chef. It may have lost some of its rambunctious glory, but it’s cool to be able to go to the hangout of some the greatest artists of all time.