Luncheon of the Boating Party
|Type||Oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||129.9 cm × 172.7 cm (51 in × 68 in)|
|Location||The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC|
Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881, French: Le déjeuner des canotiers) is a painting by French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It was purchased from the artist by the dealer-patron Paul Durand-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. It shows a richness of form, a fluidity of brush stroke, and a flickering light.
The painting depicts a group of Renoir's friends relaxing on a balcony at the Maison Fournaise along the Seine river in Chatou, France. The painter and art patron, Gustave Caillebotte, is seated in the lower right. Renoir's future wife, Aline Charigot, is in the foreground playing with a small dog. On the table is fruit and wine.
The diagonal of the railing serves to demarcate the two halves of the composition, one densely packed with figures, the other all but empty, save for the two figures of the proprietor's daughter Louise-Alphonsine Fournaise and her brother, Alphonse Fournaise, Jr, which are made prominent by this contrast. In this painting Renoir has captured a great deal of light. The main focus of light is coming from the large opening in the balcony, beside the large singleted man in the hat. The singlets of both men in the foreground and the table-cloth all work together to reflect this light and send it through the whole composition.
As he often did in his paintings, Renoir included several of his friends in Luncheon of the Boating Party. Among them are the following:
- The seamstress Aline Charigot, holding a dog, sits near the bottom left of the composition. Renoir later married her.
- Charles Ephrussi—wealthy amateur art historian, collector, and editor of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts—appears wearing a top hat in the background. The younger man to whom Ephrussi appears to be speaking, more casually attired in a brown coat and cap, may be Jules Laforgue, his personal secretary and also a poet and critic.
- Actress Ellen Andrée drinks from a glass in the center of the composition. Seated across from her is Baron Raoul Barbier.
- Placed within but peripheral to the party are the proprietor's daughter Louise-Alphonsine Fournaise and her brother, Alphonse Fournaise, Jr., both sporting traditional straw boaters and appearing to the left side of the image. Alphonsine is the smiling woman leaning on the railing; Alphonse, who was responsible for the boat rental, is the leftmost figure.
- Also wearing boaters are figures appearing to be Renoir's close friends Eugène Pierre Lestringez and Paul Lhote, himself an artist. Renoir depicts them flirting with the actress Jeanne Samary in the upper righthand corner of the painting.
- In the right foreground, Gustave Caillebotte wears a white boater's shirt and flat-topped straw boater's hat as he sits backwards in his chair next to actress Angèle Legault and journalist Adrien Maggiolo. An art patron, painter, and important figure in the impressionist circle, Caillebotte was also an avid boatman and drew on that subject for several works.
The 1954 restoration by Sheldon and Caroline Keck of Luncheon of the Boating Party has generated a long-running controversy. The ArtWatch UK Journal 19 (Autumn 2002)  quoted the art critic Alexander Eliot's recollections as Time's art critic at the time, when he repaired one day to The Phillips Collection:
|“||to revisit an especially beloved image: Renoir's 'Luncheon of the Boating Party'. I found that this sunnily celebratory masterpiece had been moved from its central position to a dark side room, as if in shame, and I could easily understand why. Its blossomy colours appeared dried out, droopy and half-awry. The seated figure in the foreground had been reduced to corpse grey. Barging angrily into Duncan Phillips' office, I asked for an explanation. Tears misted the old gentleman's eyes. 'Well,' he told me mournfully, 'I sent the picture to our mutual friends - you know the restorers I mean. The best in the business, right?' Mr Phillips paused to wave away an imaginary fly. 'I'd asked them to iron out a small blister on the surface and then forward the canvas to Paris for a major exhibition at the Louvre. Deciding that my prize acquisition needed cleaning, they went ahead with that. The people at the Louvre at first refused to accept the resultant ruin as a Renoir! Fortunately we were able to put them straight because our friends had taken the precaution of filming their work on the canvas. I have a copy of the film, which you're welcome to view. In it you'll notice actual colour-stains coming off on the cotton swabs. But please, for God's sake, don't report this tragedy. It's too dreadful.||”|
The campaigning body ArtWatch International has drawn attention to the cleaning of this picture, which it regards as unnecessary and having resulted in a loss of tone. The ArtWatch UK Journal 22 (Autumn 2007)  quoted Sheldon Keck from his work 'Some Picture Cleaning Controversies: Past and Present' (1984):
|“||In the 1950s, Mrs Keck and I attended a dinner party where an internationally known British connoisseur attacked the cleaning of paintings in general insisting that artists counted on the mellowing effects of time to enhance the harmony of their designs and colours. He was perhaps unaware that he echoed a 300 year old contention. One of the other guests inquired whether the gentleman had viewed The Phillips Collection's Renoir 'Boating Party' since it had been cleaned (by us, as most of those around the table knew). 'It is ruined,' he said, 'ruined... the harmony of the whole has been destroyed, the glazes have all been stripped away... I stood in front of it and I wept.' Defence was undertaken by Mrs Keck and if she may have exceeded normal dinner party proprieties, her statements were eminently accurate. We had photographically documented the painting, even made a color movie of our cleaning, and every solvent swab used on the surface had been saved in large jars.||”|
Popular culture references
- Actor Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973) is quoted as saying: “For over thirty years I made periodic visits to Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party in a Washington museum, and stood before that magnificent masterpiece hour after hour, day after day, plotting ways to steal it."
- The painting was featured prominently in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's film Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain — released in English as Amélie (2001). The most prominent reference is a comparison between the film's protagonist, Amélie, and the woman in the centre sipping a glass (Actress Ellen Andrée), seemingly gazing out of the canvas, uninterested, while everyone else is enjoying the day together.
- A homage to this painting appears in the final panel of On the False Earths, the seventh volume of Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin's long-running comic book series Valérian and Laureline. 
- Nicolas Pioch, WebMuseum, Paris
- [dead link]
- reprinted in the Journal number 22, qv.
- at page 33
- Keck, Sheldon (March, 1984). "Some Picture Cleaning Controversies: Past and Present". Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 23 (2): 73–87.
- Biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia: http://www.worldofepicmovies.net/edwardg.htm. Retrieved May 17, 2010
- [dead link]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Luncheon of the Boating Party.|
- Luncheon of the Boating Party (The Phillips Collection)
- Essay on this painting from the book Beauty and Terror by Brian A. Oard
- Entry on this painting at Artble