Who doesn’t love the French Impressionists? And one of the best-known and beloved of their paintings is right here in Washington, DC: Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. The Phillips Collection has organized an exhibition around their pride and joy, which will be on view until January 7, 2018. “Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party” is a visual feast.
The exhibition considers various aspects of Renoir’s relationships to the painting’s subjects. Many of them were fellow artists, so their works are on display. Other pictures depicting the population of Luncheon are here, too, by Renoir and other artists (it was a small circle of friends).
Some pictures show the joys of the riverside life, especially boating and restaurants with lovely viewing patios. I had always assumed that the “party” would have arrived at the restaurant on a single boat, but no, the pleasure fleet on the Seine was composed of small boats, carrying three or four people each, so they would have rowed or sailed separately and rendezvoused at the restaurant.
And what about my hope that there would be some enlightenment about the Luncheon itself? (As I try to justify relating this article to food or cooking!) Alas! There were only two food-related pictures, both of asparagus. Nicely rendered asparagus, and with a story to boot: Charles Ephrussi, an art critic and collector who appears in Luncheon wearing his top hat, paid Edouard Manet more than Manet expected for A Bunch of Asparagus. Manet was so grateful for the unexpected bonus that he painted another picture, of a single stalk, as lagniappe.
To be fair, Luncheon only shows the dregs of the meal’s last course. Still, there are aspects of Paris fashion (including an interactive game and a darling display of hats), so it might not have been too much to hope for a study of what these folks might have been noshing on during their enviable afternoon!
But, as part of their extensive investigation of the canvas, we can see that there was repainting of the table area, and an interactive part of the exhibition shows those changes. Was it because Renoir was concerned with the proper placement of glassware? No, more likely it was coincident with the replacement of one of the original women sitting at the table with Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife (the woman holding the little dog).
Despite the lack of food focus, the exhibition is a real treat for Impressionist lovers. I recommend it highly.
“Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party” at the Phillips Collection thru January 7, 2018.