Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party sparkles with life. Why? The atmosphere is one of timeless pleasure. Gathered around a table replete with wine, fruit, and shimmering tableware, the diners have just finished a satisfying meal.
But what makes this painting work? I had to know before embarking on the almost impossible job of recreating it.
Compositions that work for reasons that aren’t readily discernable fascinate me. The perspective in this painting is probably off and some of the people’s heads seem out of proportion. The veranda cover seems slightly tilted, like it couldn’t really be hanging on those poles. Yet when everything is placed together, viola, the atmosphere coalesces into a perfect summer day.
Who’s Having Lunch?
The painting includes youthful, idealized portraits of Renoir’s friends and colleagues as they relax at the Maison Fournaise restaurant along the Seine river in Chatou, France. The restaurant welcomed customers from a variety of social classes and professions: bourgeois businessmen, society women, artists, actors, writers, and critics.
- Aline Charigot: seamstress and future Mrs. Renoir. She’s petting her dog.
- Alphonse Fournaise, Jr.: proprietor’s son. Alphonse, as he was known, was responsible for the establishment’s boat rentals. He wears a traditional straw boater’s hat and brawny sportsman’s T-shirt.
- Alphonsine Fournaise: proprietor’s daughter.
- Baron Raoul Barbier: former mayor of colonial Saigon (present day Vietnam).
- Jules Laforgue: poet and critic, personal secretary to Charles Ephrussi (8).
- Ellen Andree: actress.
- Angele Legault: actress.
- Charles Ephrussi: wealthy collector, amateur arthistorian, and editor of the fine arts magazine Gazette des Beaux-Arts.
- Gustave Cailebotte: fellow artist, close friend and wealthy patron. Portrayed in a white boater’s shirt and straw boater’s hat.
- Adrien Maggiolo: Italian journalist.
- Eugene Pierre Lestringuez: bureaucrat.
- Paul Lhote: artist
- Jeanne Samary: actress
The only figure in the painting not identified by scholarship is the young man in profile to the right of Ellen Andrée (6).
As I painted each figure, I tried to feel what they were feeling. Knowing their names, and that they were real people once, helped. My favorite? Gustave. He was an artist too!
What’s on the Table?
20 pieces of glassware, dishes or cutlery.
Five bottles of wine (numbered), one cask of brandy, a bowl of fruit, a bunch of grapes, some kind of stoppered bottle, and a dog.
What Makes the Composition Work?
The two white shirted men on each side frame the composition, almost as if they are the quotations marks.
Each grouping of 3 people forms a triangle. Together, the triangles recede into space.
The blues and oranges are complimentary colors, creating a bright and lively color space
It’s just about the most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen!
The Luncheon of the Boating Party, (1881, French: Le déjeuner des canotiers) is a celebrated painting by impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It was purchased from the artist by the dealer-patron Paul Durant-Ruel and bought in 1923 for $125,000 from his son by Duncan Phillips. It is currently housed in The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
I’m also reading Susan Vreeland’s novel Luncheon of the Boating Party, it’s good!