Painting of the Day

20 Dec



Luncheon of the Boating Party. by Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Oil on canvas, 1880-1881. Currently on view at the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

Notes from

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir remains the best known and most popular work of art at The Phillips Collection, just as Duncan Phillips imagined it would be when he bought it in 1923. The painting captures an idyllic atmosphere as Renoir’s friends share food, wine, and conversation on a balcony overlooking the Seine at the Maison Fournaise restaurant in Chatou. Parisians flocked to the Maison Fournaise to rent rowing skiffs, eat a good meal, or stay the night.

The painting also reflects the changing character of French society in the mid- to late 19th century. The restaurant welcomed customers of many classes, including businessmen, society women, artists, actresses, writers, critics, seamstresses, and shop girls. This diverse group embodied a new, modern Parisian society.

Renoir seems to have composed this complicated scene without advance studies or underdrawing. He spent months making numerous changes to the canvas, painting the individual figures when his models were available, and adding the striped awning along the top edge. Nonetheless, Renoir retained the freshness of his vision, even as he revised, rearranged, and crafted an exquisite work of art.

Additional notes from

Renoir sold this painting to the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who supported the impressionists, after its completion. The painting, arguably one of Renoir’s most famous works, contains many of Renoir’s close friends, including his future wife, relaxing at the Maison Fournaise along the Seine River. Renoir often included his friends and acquaintances in his paintings, and this one is no different. At the bottom left of the composition, a woman holding a dog (monkey pincher), is seamstress Aline Charigot, whom later became Renoir’s wife. The painting also includes other close friends, actors, the proprietors of the establishment, and prominent social figures of his day. As such, it can be seen as a snapshot of the social times, as well as a depiction of a relaxing day on the river. 

My comments:

I’m not a huge Renoir fan, but I think this is really a masterpiece of Renoir’s oeuvre. I especially love the way Renoir renders the light sparkling off the glasses on the table. Even though wineglasses are usually delicate and fragile, Renoir uses a substantial amount of paint on them which gives them weight. This is an example of the contrast between Renoir’s depiction of 19th century France and that of Degas’s (as seen in l’Absinthe). Although both artists chose subjects from the same socioeconomic class in the same country at the same time period, we see radically different definitions of what it means to be a bourgeoisie in late 19th century France. Both paintings feature their subjects drinking forms of alcohol, but in Renoir’s painting it functions as a party aid and in Degas’s painting it becomes a source of excess and sickness. Both artists also employ similar styles in each painting as well, with those gestural brushstrokes and a generous use of paint (although not an overwhelming amount as we see in Van Gogh’s work). 

One Response to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara December 27, 2012 at 1:12 am #

    Many comments on your comparison to the Degas. First of all, this is a happy picture Renoir spontaneously made of his friends at a party . Degas set up a scene and asked his friends to pose for the scene to show the evils and unhappiness in life.
    Second, wine vs Absinthe isnt a real comparison. Sort of like comparing the lottery to hard core gambling.
    Finally , the Renoir has a small dog in the picture, which of course Degas does not and i am partial to small dogs.

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