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Dancing Girl with Castanets
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

This picture, together with its companion piece Dancing Girl with Tambourine (also in the National Gallery’s collection), was made to decorate the dining room of the Paris apartment of one of Renoir’s most important clients, Maurice Gangnat. Of the two dancers, this figure has the more animated pose. Her foot is raised and Renoir has created a long, sinuous line up through her leg and arms to suggest her turns and twists as she clacks the castanets. The way the edges of her sheer, shimmering costume blur into the vibrant colours of the background also enhances the impression of movement.

Renoir used Georgette Pigeot, a dressmaker who often posed for him, to model the body of the dancer. The head of this figure, however, is that of Gabrielle Renard, nursemaid and housekeeper for the Renoir family, who was one also of his favourite models. Her costume has elements of oriental or near-Eastern style (in the short, gold-coloured bodice, for example), but the red flowers in her hair are reminiscent of Spain, as are the castanets.

Key facts
Artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Artist dates 1841 - 1919
Full title Dancing Girl with Castanets
Series Pair of Dancing Girls with Musical Instruments
Date made 1909
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 155 x 64.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1961
Inventory number NG6318
Location in Gallery Room 41
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Pair of Dancing Girls with Musical Instruments

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These two pictures of dancers in exotic costumes are near life-size. They were were made as part of the decorations of an apartment at 24 Avenue de Friedland in central Paris, which belonged to Maurice Gangnat, a wealthy steel magnate and art collector and one of Renoir’s most discerning clients. Made to hang on either side of a mirror above the fireplace in the dining room, they belong to a tradition of decorative art used to enliven architectural features with painted figures, often in poses which mimicked sculptural forms.

The paintings were made late in Renoir’s career, when he was 67 or 68 years old, though as a youthful apprentice he had trained as a decorative artist. The costumes of both dancers have oriental – or near-Eastern – overtones, especially the slippers and short gold-coloured bodices, and the harem pants worn by the woman in Dancing Girl with Tambourine.

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