Life is never as it seems on the surface.
The decorating project to fill a niche in my kitchen that began last June is finally complete! I needed a sparkling, emotional, lively and color rich painting for the wall area above my sink. The masterwork, Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre Auguste Renoir was my choice. This magnificent painting hangs in The Phillips Collection in Washington DC, and I hope to see it in person someday. This is my recreation of it.
Oh what a journey and the things I learned in the process of recreating this painting! 1) People reveal layers. 2) Things are never, ever what they seem 3) The social and economic factors in place at the time a painting is created reveal a) the artist, b) the art world c) the choice of subject matter.
As I read Susan Vreeland’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, which one critic describes as:
“Finely, vividly rendered details of 1880s France: ten years after Napoleon III declared war on Prussia and was defeated, and Paris was still healing the human sufferings from the Prussian Siege it endured and the subsequent Commune revolt which killed thousands. But the deprivation, the starvation wasn’t with the Parisians any longer,”
I could almost feel the lives of the people in the painting. As with all of us, they were filled with contradictions and unfinished business. Nothing was black and white. They still carried memories of an atrocious war and the ensuing sufferings, yet refused to allow the past to dominate their future. They chose to embrace the moment, whether it be the taste of a fine wine, the wind in their face, or the loveliness of a summer afternoon spent with friends.
Compare that to our lives today. Our economy is dismal, many people are without jobs, and our country has been at war for a decade. Art galleries are closing doors because no one can afford to buy paintings. Yet time passes and we have no choice but to become older, wiser and more mature. Each moment of the time is valuable and we can choose to embrace it, as did Renoir, or choose otherwise.
Renoir painted what he chose, not what the art world dictated, nor expected. As he did so he revealed layer upon layer of his subjects; people with complicated lives of which he chose only to reveal what he found to be beautiful.
Whether collectors, galleries or ‘art salon’ aficionados would purchase the work was unimportant to him. It gave meaning to his life and that was all that was important. He understood how complicated life could be. He couldn’t even afford to buy his paints! Yet he continued to do the only thing he could justify in his soul, the only thing that would allow him to live with himself; paint the way he wanted to paint.
This is everything I hope to achieve in my painting lifetime. Thank you Mr. Renoir!
You’ll also might like:
- Luncheon of the Boating Party – Part 1 Marie’s gouche studies
- Luncheon of the Boating Party – Part 2 who’s in the painting, what it means and why it works
- Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
- Guide to Luncheon of the Boating Party from the Phillips Collection
- Video Luncheon of the Boating Party – by the Phillips Collection on YouTube