Art History  •  Artworks under the lens

Luncheon of the Boating Party: Renoir’s Tribute to His Closest Friends

luncheon of the boating party

Luncheon of the Boating Party is an artwork by impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It is particularly admired because it combines his signature impressionist style with portraiture, still life and an en plein air setting.  Luncheon of the Boating Party features many prominent figures from the Parisian art scene, and Singulart will be exploring who is depicted in the artwork, as well as the life of Renoir.

Who was Renoir? 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges on February 25, 1841. The son of a tailor and a seamstress, Renoir inherited an attention to detail and a steady hand, leading to a job as a painter at one of the town’s porcelain factories when he was a teenager. He quickly rose to prominence within the factory as a favorite of the wealthy customers, who commissioned him to paint other objects for their houses, such as fans and other luxury items. 

luncheon of the boating party

These early successes piqued Renoir’s interest in painting, and he began making frequent trips to Paris to visit the The Louvre. He was particularly inspired by the work of the Rococo masters, such as Jean-Antoine Watteau, Jean-Honoré Frognard, and Francis Boucher. In 1862 he began studying under Charles Gleyre alongside Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. Although the three artists would become his close friends and fellow impressionists, Renoir did not embrace the ‘en plein air’ setting as readily as his contemporaries, preferring to work from a studio. He gained critical acclaim for his first exhibited artwork, Lisa with a Parasol, which depicted his lover Lisa Tréhot. In 1869, Renoir would spend the summer painting alongside Monet at La Grénouille, establishing their roots as two of the earliest impressionist artists as they discovered traditional impressionist methods such as the short, broad brushstrokes and sketch-like outlines capturing fleeting scenes in nature. 

Although Renoir had enjoyed success at the Paris Salon with Lisa with a Parasol, his later efforts did not quite meet his expectations. The academy were not impressed with the ‘unfinished’ quality of his later work. Renoir would later join his fellow impressionist artists in staging a renegade exhibition, and although the works would be largely panned, Renoir would be well received by critics. However, following the second impressionist exhibition, Renoir became disillusioned with the impressionist style and abstained from the group, deciding that the impressionist’s style of spontaneity was not something he wanted to portray in his artworks. 

Luncheon of the Boating Party can be seen as one of the first shifts away from impressionism to a more classic style inspired by the Rococo artists. For the rest of his career Renoir would find great success in painting candid compositions, with a focus on saturated color and light. Although he developed arthritis around 1892, he still continued to paint throughout the remainder of his life. He also created a series of sculptures with artist Richard Guino in 1919, the same period he was able to see his work hanging in the Louvre with the pieces that had first inspired him to paint. He died in Cagnes-sur-Mer on December 3, 1919.  

What makes Luncheon of the Boating Party one of Renoir’s masterpieces?

luncheon of the boating party
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-1881

Luncheon of the Boating Party depicts a group of fourteen guests having lunch at Maison Fournaise, which was situated on the banks of the Seine, in Chatou.  Although the scene has similarities to one of Renoir’s earlier pieces, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, Luncheon at the Boating Party uses more defined borders and pays greater attention to how the light contours the characters’ forms, giving it more of a three-dimensional effect and really bringing the characters to life. 

Luncheon of the Boating Party is three compositions cleverly layered into one painting. The foreground features a still life composition, composed of the bottles and glassware on the table. It is believed that Renoir would have painted this part of the artwork in his studio, using heavy paints, in a traditional still life manner. The figure painting of course comes from the portrayal of the luncheon guests, which also would have been completed in Renoir’s studio. Finally, in the background of the painting we can see the landscape, which most likely would have been painted en plein air

Although Renoir had distanced himself from the impressionists by the time Luncheon of the Boating Party was completed, elements of the impressionist style can be seen in his use of vibrant color and in his choice to depict a scene from everyday life in a setting he knew well and loved (he painted over thirty works set in Chatou). 

When it was displayed at the seventh impressionist exhibition in 1882, it was immediately lauded with praise. Writing for Le Pays, Paul de Charry stated, “It is fresh and free without being too bawdy”, while critic Armand Silvestre wrote that it was “one of the best things Renoir has painted… It is one of the most beautiful pieces that this insurrectionist art by Independent artist has produced.” 

Who are the people featured in Luncheon of the Boating Party

In 1912, German art critic Julius Meier-Grafe identified the figures, most of them friends and acquaintances of Renoir, who are featured in the painting. They are as follows: 

  • Aline Charigot, a seamstress. She can be seen at the bottom left of the painting, holding an affenpinscher dog. Charigot and Renoir would later marry and have three sons together. 
  • Charles Ephrussi, an art historian and editor of Gazette des Beaux-Artes. Ephrussi can be towards the back of the painting, wearing a top hat. 
  • Jules LaForgue, Ephrussi’s personal secretary. LaForgue can be seen speaking to Ephrussi, in decidedly less formal attire consisting of a brown coat and fisherman’s cap. LaForgue was also known as a Symbolist poet. 
  • Baron Raoul Barbier, former mayor of colonial Saigon. In the artwork, Barbier is seen sitting at the table, facing away from the viewer, wearing a brown bowler hat. Barbier was known as a bon vivant, and Renoir’s son famously described him as “interested only in horses, women and boats”. 
  • Ellen Andrée, an actress. Andrée can be seen sitting across from Barbier, drinking from a glass. Andrée frequently posed for Renoir, also modeling for Degas and Monet. 
  • Eugène-Pierre Lestringuez, an official at the Ministry of Interior, and Paul Lhote, a fellow artist. The two can be seen being particularly attentive towards one of the female guests, Angèle Laurent, a Parisian actress and flower vendor.
  • Adrien Maggiolo, a journalist for Le Triboulet, and Gustave Caillebotte, an artist and close friend of Renoir. The two can be seen in the lower right of the painting. 
  • Jeanne Samar, an actress. In the piece Samar appears to be in a lively conversation with Maggiolo and Caillebotte. Samar was a well-known and acclaimed actress, appearing at the Comedie-Française. 
  • Alphonse Fournaise Jr and Alphonsine Fournaise Jr, son and daughter of the owners of the Maison Fournaise. Dressed in traditional straw boater hats, the Fournaises are slightly separated from the rest of the group. At the Maison Fournaise, Alphonse was responsible for boat rentals, while Alphonsine had previously modeled for Renoir. 

See artwork by similar artists in Singulart’s Inspired by Renoir collection.

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