Currently housed in the Phillips Collection in Washington, Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party is a rich, varied, and celebratory painting. Revelling in the joys of youth and repose, revelers interact with each other, suspended in light and time. The models for the figures were Renoir's close circle of friends, sharing wine, conversation, and jokes on the balcony of the Maison Fournaise restaurant in Chatou near Paris. An idyllic and optimistic view of French society in the late-nineteenth century, Luncheon of the Boating Party is a reproduction of a particular establishment that welcomed a range of social classes, all of which could enjoy a day of boating relatively free from the usual constraints of social hierarchy.
This embryonic modern Parisian society emerged as spontaneously as Renoir appeared to capture the scene. With little to no underdrawing and no sign of any studies for the scene, Renoir instead spent a significant period of time adjusting and perfecting the canvas, touching up his models from life and decorating the awning. It is the inclusion of Renoir's close friends and colleagues that gives the painting the energy and spontaneity that shines through the artist's proceeding amendments, not to mention the scandalously botched restoration of the work.
Art historians sit with collectors, editors sit with poets, critics sit with colonial overseers, and the proprietor's daughter sits the boy who rents the boating garments, and a known bureaucrat appears to be flirting with an actress. Perhaps, more important for Renoir, Aline Charigot also models, who the artist had recently met and would marry soon after. Most notably, they all sit together in this vivid reproduction of a youthful and energetic society sharing ideas. As life-affirming and moving as the momentary shifts of light and color, Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party is a beam of positivity and social cohesion.
Renoir creates a stimulating composition, as he places a table with many bottles, fruits, glasses and a wrinkly tablecloth as if it were a still life painting. Sitting at this table are two women with blue dresses – and one is caressing a small dog. The two men in the forefront are very casual, wearing straw hats and sleeveless white shirts. The third man in the forefront is dressed formally. There are many people in the background, also in formal clothing and hats.
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